Development and validation of an instrument to assess Gray's constructs of behavioral activation and behavioral inhibition systems in the brain

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Committee Member

Charles S. Carver, Committee Chair


Gray (1977) postulated the constructs of a behavioral activation system (BAS) and behavioral inhibition system (BIS) to explain personality differences related to anxiety and impulsivity. Considerable theorizing has been done about the relationship of these systems to personality functioning and emotional/behavioral disorders (Gray, 1982, 1987b; Quay, 1988), yet to date no instrument has been devised to assess these two constructs in humans. Study 1 was designed to do that. Questionnaire items believed to reflect Gray's constructs of BAS and BIS were generated and administered to 754 students in introductory psychology classes. Iterated principle factor analysis yielded a 51 item scale consisting of four stable factors that were named Drive, Reward Responsiveness, Impulsivity/Sensation Seeking, and Punishment Sensitivity. Internal reliability was assessed using the Cronbach Coefficient Alpha. Convergent and discriminant validity were established using the short form of the Taylor Manifest Anxiety Scale and items from the extraversion scale of the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire. Retest reliability was assessed with 107 subjects who had completed the final version of the instrument 2 months earlier.Predictive validity was then tested with three experimental paradigms involving reward and punishment contingencies. Study 2 was designed to examine BAS functioning in terms of emotional reactions to success and conditioned signals of reward. The other studies were designed to examine two aspects of BIS functioning: passive avoidance learning in response to punishment (Study 3) and emotional responses to failure and conditioned signals of punishment (Study 4). The results provided partial support for the construct validity of the questionnaire. In Study 2, subjects showed a significant positive correlation between the BAS subscale of drive and self-reported happiness ratings. Nonsignificant, positive correlations were also found for the reward subscale and the overall BAS scale. Studies 3 and 4 did not provide direct support for the hypotheses, though the BIS scale showed positive correlations with ratings of the aversiveness of the punishment, the amount of anticipated punishment, and both pretask and posttask nervousness ratings.


Psychology, Clinical; Psychology, Personality

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