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The BIS/BAS/Fight Flight Freeze system

The BIS/BAS/Fight Flight Freeze system

Mammals react differently to stress. Some react more with attack and fight, others with flight or playing dead.
These differences in stress reactions are not very hereditary, but rather randomly distributed personality patterns. They were developed in the course of evolution to increase the probability of survival of groups. Heterogeneous groups have a higher chance of survival than homogeneous groups. This principle can be found today in industrial psychology. Groups with different personality types are more productive.

Gray’s fight/flight stress model distinguishes between 3 functional stress response systems.

  • the BAS system controls the attack
  • the FFFS type controls escape and playing dead
  • the BIS system is responsible for balancing BAS and FFFS.
    High activation of BIS is associated with anxiety and introversion, while high activation of BAS causes impulsivity and extraversion.
    The BAS is controlled by the dopaminergic system, while the BIS is controlled by the noradrenergic-cholinergic-serotonergic neurotransmitters. The FFFS, which triggers flight, fight or flight to death, is controlled in the periaqueductal gray area of the brain.

1. The BIS/BAS/FFS system according to Gray

Mammals do not react uniformly to stress.
According to the fight/flight stress model (by Connor (1932) and later Gray, who combined it with the BIS/BAS model, → RST from 1990, revised 2000), there are 2 to 3 main groups of stress reactions:

The BAS type reacts to stress by attacking.
The FFFS type reacts to stress by fleeing or playing dead.
According to the revised Reinforcement Sensitivity Theory (RST) by Gray (2000), the BIS system no longer reacts to external stimuli, but only becomes active when the BIS and the FFFS system have both been activated. The BIS system is responsible for balancing BAS and FFFS.

The original Fight/Flight system has been expanded to include the Freeze component to create the FFFS.

Benefits of different stress phenotypes

These reaction models are very deeply rooted. The probability of survival of a “stone-age” group of Homo sapiens has always been higher if the group had members of both types. Modern industrial psychology knows that groups with different characters are more successful than homogeneous groups.

Examples

How well would the prehistoric group have been protected from enemies if all members of a group were night owls or early risers, i.e. slept at the same time?
Similarly, what is the likelihood that at least individual group members would have survived if a completely new challenge had arisen in which either deliberate or spontaneous action was the more appropriate survival strategy?
In other words, it would run counter to the basic idea of evolution that groups with a homogeneous character structure survive better than others.

The different stress response phenotypes are also recognizable in other organisms, e.g. in guppies.1
As a consequence, it seems conclusive that the expression of the individual as a fight or flight type is a purely random variable that ensured that a population had enough members of both types.
If we consider “freeze” as an independent stress response phenotype (which could plausibly explain the phenomenon of sluggish thinking), there would be three stress phenotypes.

Put another way: Groups in which a single type had become genetically dominant were less likely to survive, so we are likely to be the descendants of those who passed on this trait with a higher random distribution.

Similar: Farmer/Hunter hypothesis

In the Hunter/Farmer hypothesis, ADHD-HI/ADHD-C sufferers are phenotypically regarded as hunters and ADHD-I subtype sufferers are phenotypically regarded as farmers, with the ADHD symptoms of each subtype occupying an (unhealthy) extreme form of the two poles. A representation as extreme poles is conclusive.
Nevertheless, the Hunter/Farmer hypothesis is hardly tenable.
While it is true that being independent requires quick decisions, which is more suitable for Type A personalities and ADHD-HI/ADHD-C types, therapeutic professions require more patience and empathy, which is more suitable for introverted types.
However, ADHD symptoms such as inattention, impulsivity etc. are also a hindrance to self-employment and make him less successful within the group of self-employed people than others with just as many externalizing personality traits but without ADHD symptoms. Otherwise, if only ADHD-HI or ADHD-C sufferers had a job that was troubled enough, they would be particularly successful. However, ADHD is not a career choice problem.

We have observed that professional/entrepreneurial self-employment is the domain of type A personalities and ADHD-HI/ADHD-C personalities. According to our subjective impression, type C personalities and people of the ADHD-I subtype are less or less successful as self-employed persons. This is particularly true for SCT sufferers, for whom self-employment is not advisable in our experience.
Independence requires the ability to make quick decisions. While hasty or even ill-considered, impulsive decisions may also be detrimental to self-employment, difficulties in making decisions appear to be an even greater obstacle.

Conversely, according to our subjective impression, activities that require a great deal of empathy and patience, such as therapeutic professions, seem to be a strength of the more introverted types.

Literature reference

Szczesny-Friedmann calls BIS types “pigeons” and BAS types “hawks” and describes the consequences in a technically accurate and generally understandable way.2

Introversion and extraversion

Introversion and extraversion are classified according to the Myers-Briggs type indicator are about equally common. They have primarily genetic and biological, rather than environmental or educational causes.3 Introversion and extraversion are understood as two poles of one measure.
One explanation could be that stimulus-sensitive people need fewer new stimuli and less stimulus-sensitive people need more new stimuli in order to reach their optimal level of arousal. According to this, extraversion would be associated with low stimulus sensitivity and introversion with high stimulus sensitivity.
The reality is probably more complex; see Dunn’s sensitivity model.4

1.1. Reinforcement Sensitivity Theory (RST)

Whether BIS and BAS are independent of each other, i.e. BIS and BAS can both be low or at different levels (according to Gray), or whether BIS and BAS are the poles of a uniform unit within which they correlate with each other depending on the state (Corr), i.e. are rigidly connected to each other rather like a playground seesaw, was disputed. However, the question should be obsolete with the newer RST, because with this BIS and FFFS must necessarily be active at the same time in order to be able to offer the BIS alternative courses of action. More recent voices consistently consider the systems to be independent of each other.56

1.1.1. The modified RST (Gray, 2000)

In 2000, Gray modified the reinforcement sensitivity theory (RST) he had postulated, particularly with regard to the task of the BIS.

According to the modified RST, the BAS and FFFS are activated simultaneously and independently of each other by new stimuli. The BAS reacts to reward stimuli, the FFFS to all Forms of punishment stimuli. The BIS, on the other hand, is no longer activated by stimuli themselves, but only by simultaneous activation of the BAS and FFFS. The BIS is then activated by conflicts between BAS and FFFS and serves to weigh up which system should be given preference for action. At the same time, the BIS activates attention to the environment in order to obtain cues for decision-making.78

Impulsivity can then be described as high extraversion with high emotional instability (neuroticism), which leads to a high sensitivity to reward (highly reactive BAS).

1.1.2. The original RST (Gray, 1990)

The “old” RST, according to which the BAS system should react to reward stimuli, the BIS to punishment stimuli and non-reward stimuli, and the FFS to existentially threatening stimuli, whereby these three systems acted independently of each other, could not conclusively explain a number of reactions.

2. Behavioral Inhibition System (BIS)

2.1. BIS according to the old RST

The Behavioral Inhibition System correlates with personality traits9

  • Anxiety
    • As a weakened form of neuroticism
    • Marker for the sensitivity to punishment (Trait Sensitivity of Punishment, SP)
  • Introversion (as the antithesis of BAS extraversion)
  • Fear

The BIS reflects susceptibility to punishment, non-reward and unknown stimuli (conditioned aversive stimuli).

2.1.1. Activation of the BIS

The BIS is activated by

  • Conditioned stimuli for
    • Punishment
    • Frustrating non-reward
    • New, unexpected stimuli

These trigger a behavioral inhibition via the BIS.

The BIS is noradrenergic-cholinergic-serotonergic controlled10 and can be impaired by anxiolytics.11

2.1.2. Effects of the BIS

In a diary study, people with high BIS reported more negative experiences and experienced them more negatively than comparison groups.12
People with high BIS evaluate negative social experiences more negatively. They invest more to avoid them and experience negative experiences more intensely.13, page 227, with further evidence))

People with high BIS are more likely to set negative goals. Example in the social domain: “I don’t want to be alone” instead of “I want to have a partner”.13, page 227, with further evidence))

Nevertheless, the choice of (here: social) goals is a better predictor of (here: social) success than the degree of sensitivity to punishment or reward (BIS and BAS).13, page 227, with further evidence))

2.2. The BIS according to the new RST

See above under 1.1.1.

2.3. BIS and neurophysiological correlates

A higher BIS correlates with greater right prefrontal activation, shows lower NK activity (NK = natural killer cells) and reacts more strongly to negative emotional stimuli.14

Neurologically, Gray locates the BIS in the septo-hippocampal system (SHS),15 consisting of

  • Hippocampus (limbic system)15
  • Septal cores15
  • Connections to the cingulate cortex, part of the frontomedial PFC15
  • Connections to the PFC15
  • Amygdala16

An activated BIS increases non-specific arousal, which leads to a focus of attention on currently relevant events.17
High anxiety and increased sensitivity to punishment are characterized in particular by a high synchronization of the hippocampus and amygdala in the theta EEG frequency band.18 A reduction in anxiety through new conditioning also reduces the synchronization of the hippocampus and amygdala.1920

Depression and anxiety disorders are associated with a sensitized BIS.21 A sensitized BIS is associated with increased sensitivity to punishment and an enlarged hippocampus and amygdala.2218

Anxiolytics (anxiety-reducing drugs) reduce the excitability of the amygdala.23

However, the BIS system can also be impaired by anxiolytics.24

The BIS is regulated by the neurotransmitters

where noradrenaline and serotonin are linked to the activity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis) and lead to the release of cortisol from the adrenal gland.26 In healthy children, activation of the BIS in response to punishment is associated with increased cortisol levels following difficult situations.27

Chiossi summarizes the neurological correlates of BIS.28

3. Behavioral Activation System (BAS)

3.1. BAS according to old and new RST

According to Gray’s Reinforcement Sensitivity Theory (RST), Drive, Reward Responsiveness, Fun Seeking29 correlate with the degree of activation of the BAS to a particular stimulus.
The BAS reacts to conditioned stimuli for reward and non-punishment, which leads to approach behavior and generally to behavioral activation.3031

The Behavioral Activation System correlates with the personality trait impulsivity as a weakened form of extraversion and reflects sensitivity to reward incentives.3233

When the BAS is activated, this leads to a feeling of reward similar to that experienced after the consumption of cocaine, amphetamines, heroin or alcohol.34 These rewards are all linked to the dopaminergic system.

3.2. Effects of the BAS

In a diary study, people with a high BAS reported more positive experiences than a comparison group.12
People with a high BAS are more likely to set positive goals. Example in the social domain: “I want to meet new people” instead of “I don’t want to be alone”.13, page 227, with further evidence))
Nevertheless, as already written, the choice of (here: social) goals is a better predictor of (here: social) success than the degree of sensitivity to punishment or reward (BIS and BAS).13, page 227, with further evidence))

3.3. Neurophysiological correlates of the BAS system

The BAS is primarily dopaminergically controlled by the mesocortical pathway.25

The BAS is controlled neurologically by processes that take place in the brain areas

  • Basal ganglia
    • Pallidum
      • Dorsal
      • Ventral
    • Striatum
      • Dorsal
      • Ventral
  • Dopaminergic nerve pathways

lie.35

The fact that the BAS is primarily dopaminergically controlled by the mesocortical pathway25 explains the susceptibility of the reward system in ADHD due to the dopaminergic dysfunctions known to occur in ADHD.

A start of the BAS is reflected in an increase in the heart rate3637 and an increase in skin conductance as well as changes in the startle reflex.38

Children with the ADHD-HI subtype and with social disorders were found to have reduced activity of the BIS and increased activity of the BAS.3926 Under the new RST, not the BIS but the FFFS is likely to be reduced.
The response to recurring reward stimuli was reinforced, even if these had been replaced by aversive stimuli in the meantime. 40

4. Fight-Flight-Freeze-System (FFFS) according to new RST

The FFFS correlates with panic and fear (threat), i.e. unconditioned aversive stimuli. Primary negative reinforcers are accompanied by negative emotions such as horror, panic and anger and trigger flight, freeze or fight.41
The FFFS is anchored in the vegetative nervous system.

The recognized therapy method of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) for ADHD has a vegetative effect.

The fight-flight-freeze mechanism (first described by Gray) is controlled in the periaqueductal gray of the brain (central cave gray). The control mechanism is still unknown.42


  1. Guppys zeigen unterschiedliche Reaktionen auf Stress

  2. Szczesny-Friedmann (2012): Taube oder Falke: Warum wir sind, wie wir sind – und was wir daran ändern können, Rowolth

  3. http://www.psychomeda.de/lexikon/extraversion.html

  4. http://paei.wikidot.com/dunn-winnie-dunn-s-model-of-sensory-processing

  5. Für eine Unabhängigkeit: Hahn (2007): Belohnungssensitivität: Selbstauskunft, Verhalten und elektrokortikale Aktivität im Fadenkreuz von differentieller Emotion und Motivation, Dissertation, Seite 22

  6. Gegen eine Unabhängigkeit: Hahn (2007): Belohnungssensitivität: Selbstauskunft, Verhalten und elektrokortikale Aktivität im Fadenkreuz von differentieller Emotion und Motivation, Dissertation, Seite 106

  7. Chiossi (2013): Neuronale Grundlagen der Persönlichkeit nach Gray: Ein Vergleich von Ego-Shooter-Spielern und -Nicht-Spielern, Dissertation, Seite 12

  8. Strobel, Beauducel, Debener, Brocke (2001): Eine deutschsprachige Version des BIS/BAS-Fragebogens von Carver und White, Zeitschrift für Differentielle und Diagnostische Psychologie, September 2001 Vol. 22, No. 3, 216-227, doi:10.1024//0170-1789.22.3.216

  9. Müller, Smits, Claes, de Zwaan (2013): Faktorenstruktur der deutschsprachigen Version der BIS/BAS-Skalen in einer Bevölkerungsstichprobe – Factor Structure of the German Version of the BIS/BAS Scales in a Population-Based Sample; Fortschr Neurol Psychiatr 2013; 81(2): 75-80; DOI: 10.1055/s-0032-1330482

  10. Hahn (2007): Belohnungssensitivität: Selbstauskunft, Verhalten und elektrokortikale Aktivität im Fadenkreuz von differentieller Emotion und Motivation, Dissertation, Seite 23

  11. Hahn (2007): Belohnungssensitivität: Selbstauskunft, Verhalten und elektrokortikale Aktivität im Fadenkreuz von differentieller Emotion und Motivation, Dissertation, Seite 20

  12. Gable, Reis, Elliot (2000): Behavioral activation and inhibition in everyday life. J Pers Soc Psychol. 2000 Jun;78(6):1135-49.

  13. Gable, in Forgas, Fitness (2008): Social Relationships: Cognitive, Affective, and Motivational Processes, unter Verweis auf Gable, Reis, Elliot (2000), Gable (2006) und Elliot, Gable, Mapes (2006)

  14. Davidson (2000): Affective style, psychopathology, and resilience: brain mechanisms and plasticity. Am Psychol. 2000 Nov;55(11):1196-214.

  15. Gray, McNaughton (2000): The neuropsychology of anxiety. An enquiry into the functions of the septo-hippocampal system. 2dn ed. Oxford University Press, 2000.

  16. Holzschneider, Mulert (2011): Neuroimaging in anxiety disorders. Dialogues Clin Neurosci, 2011. 13(4): p. 453-61

  17. Corominas, Ramos-Quiroga, Ferrer, Saez-Francas, Palomar, Bosch, Casas (2012): Cortisol responses in children and adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): a possible marker of inhibition deficits, ADHD Atten Def Hyp Disord (2012) 4:63–75. DOI 10.1007/s12402-012-0075-59

  18. Hahn, Dresler, Plichta, Ehlis, Ernst, Markulin, Polak, Blaimer, Deckert, Lesch, Jakob, Fallgatter (2010):, Functional amygdala-hippocampus connectivity during anticipation of aversive events is associated with Gray’s trait “sensitivity to punishment”. Biol Psychiatry, 2010. 68(5): p. 459-64.

  19. Lesting, Narayanan, Kluge, Sangha, Seidenbecher, Pape (2011): Patterns of coupled theta activity in amygdala-hippocampalprefrontal cortical circuits during fear extinction. PLoS One, 2011. 6(6): p. e21714.

  20. Lesting, Geiger, Narayanan, Pape, Seidenbecher (2011): Impaired extinction of fear and maintained amygdalahippocampal theta synchrony in a mouse model of temporal lobe epilepsy. Epilepsia, 2011. 52(2): p. 337-46.

  21. Corr (2008): The Reinforcement Sensitivity Theory of Personality; Online ISBN: 9780511819384, https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511819384

  22. Barrós-Loscertales, Meseguer, Sanjuán, Belloch, Parcet, Torrubia, Avila (2006): Behavioral Inhibition System activity is associated with increased amygdala and hippocampal gray matter volume: A voxel-based morphometry study. Neuroimage. 2006 Nov 15;33(3):1011-5.

  23. Davis (1992): The Role of the Amygdala in Fear and Anxiety, Annual Review of Neuroscience, Vol. 15:353-375; https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.ne.15.030192.002033

  24. Hahn, Belohnungssensitivität: Selbstauskunft, Verhalten und elektrokortikale Aktivität im Fadenkreuz von differentieller Emotion und Motivation, Dissertation 2007, Seite 20

  25. Hahn, Belohnungssensitivität: Selbstauskunft, Verhalten und elektrokortikale Aktivität im Fadenkreuz von differentieller Emotion und Motivation, Dissertation 2007, Seite 23

  26. Quay (1997): Inhibition and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder; Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, February 1997, Volume 25, Issue 1, pp 7–13

  27. Blair, Peters, Granger (2004): Physiological and neuropsychological correlates of approach/withdrawal tendencies in preschool: further examination of the behavioral inhibition system/behavioral activation system scales for young children. Dev Psychobiol 45:113–124

  28. Chiossi (2013): Neuronale Grundlagen der Persönlichkeit nach Gray: Ein Vergleich von Ego-Shooter-Spielern und -Nicht-Spielern, Dissertation, Seite 13

  29. Müller, Smits, Claes, de Zwaan (2013): Faktorenstruktur der deutschsprachigen Version der BIS/BAS-Skalen in einer Bevölkerungsstichprobe – Factor Structure of the German Version of the BIS/BAS Scales in a Population-Based Sample; Fortschr Neurol Psychiatr 2013; 81(2): 75-80; DOI: 10.1055/s-0032-1330482; die Autoren gehen allerdings nur auf die alte RST und nicht auf die von Gray 2000 überarbeitete RST ein

  30. Gray (1988): The psychology of fear and stress. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press

  31. Gray (1990): Brain systems that mediate both emotion and cognition. Cognition Emotion 1990; 4: 269-288

  32. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reinforcement_sensitivity_theory

  33. Hahn, Belohnungssensitivität: Selbstauskunft, Verhalten und elektrokortikale Aktivität im Fadenkreuz von differentieller Emotion und Motivation, Dissertation 2007, Seite 18

  34. Hahn, Belohnungssensitivität: Selbstauskunft, Verhalten und elektrokortikale Aktivität im Fadenkreuz von differentieller Emotion und Motivation, Dissertation 2007, Seite 19, mit Hinweis auf Gray 1990

  35. Leger (2009): Emotionale Reaktionen bei Kindern mit Störung des Sozialverhaltens im Vergleich zu Erwachsenen mit antisozialem Verhalten; Dissertation. Seite 19; Die Autorin bezieht sich nur auf die alte RST, nicht auf die 2000 von Gray überarbeitete RST.

  36. Fowles (1980): The three arousal model: implications of gray’s two-factor learning theory for heart rate, electrodermal activity, and psychopathy. Psychophysiology. 1980 Mar;17(2):87-104.

  37. Fowles (1988): Psychophysiology and Psychopathology: A Motivational Approach. Psychophysiology, 25: 373–391. doi:10.1111/j.1469-8986.1988.tb01873.x

  38. Lang, Bradley, Cuthbert (1992): A motivational analysis of emotion: Reflex-cortex connections. Psychological Science 3:44-49

  39. Quay (1988): Attention deficit disorder and the behavioural inhibition system: the relevance of the neuropsychological theory of Jeffrey A. Gray. In: Bloomingdale, Sergeant (eds.): Attention deficit disorders: criteria, cognition, and intervention. Pergamon, New York pp 117-126, zitiert nach Leger (2009): Emotionale Reaktionen bei Kindern mit Störung des Sozialverhaltens im Vergleich zu Erwachsenen mit antisozialem Verhalten; Dissertation. Seite 20; Die Autorin scheint sich nur auf die alte RST, nicht auf die 2000 von Gray überarbeitete RST zu beziehen.

  40. Matthys, van Goozen, de Vries, Cohen-Kettenis, van Engeland (1998): The Dominance of Behavioural Activation over Behavioural Inhibition in Conduct Disordered Boys with or without Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder; The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines, Volume 39, Issue 5 July 1998 , pp. 643-651

  41. Hahn, Belohnungssensitivität: Selbstauskunft, Verhalten und elektrokortikale Aktivität im Fadenkreuz von differentieller Emotion und Motivation, Dissertation 2007, Seite 21

  42. Zimmer (2011): Studentenskript zur Vorlesung NEUROPSYCHOLOGIE WS 2011/12 Uni Köln