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Neuroscience and approach/avoidance personality traits: a two stage (valuation-motivation) approach

Corr, P. J. & McNaughton, N. (2012). Neuroscience and approach/avoidance personality traits: a two stage (valuation-motivation) approach. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 36(10), pp. 2339-2354. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2012.09.013


Many personality theories link specific traits to the sensitivities of the neural systems that control approach and avoidance. But there is no consensus on the nature of these systems. Here we combine recent advances in economics and neuroscience to provide a more solid foundation for a neuroscience of approach/avoidance personality. We propose a two-stage integration of valuation (loss/gain) sensitivities with motivational (approach/avoidance/conflict) sensitivities. Our key conclusions are: (1) that valuation of appetitive and aversive events (e.g. gain and loss as studied by behavioural economists) is an independent perceptual input stage--with the economic phenomenon of loss aversion resulting from greater negative valuation sensitivity compared to positive valuation sensitivity; (2) that valuation of an appetitive stimulus then interacts with a contingency of presentation or omission to generate a motivational 'attractor' or 'repulsor', respectively (vice versa for an aversive stimulus); (3) the resultant behavioural tendencies to approach or avoid have distinct sensitivities to those of the valuation systems; (4) while attractors and repulsors can reinforce new responses they also, more usually, elicit innate or previously conditioned responses and so the perception/valuation-motivation/action complex is best characterised as acting as a 'reinforcer' not a 'reinforcement'; and (5) approach-avoidance conflict must be viewed as activating a third motivation system that is distinct from the basic approach and avoidance systems. We provide examples of methods of assessing each of the constructs within approach-avoidance theories and of linking these constructs to personality measures. We sketch a preliminary five-element reinforcer sensitivity theory (RST-5) as a first step in the integration of existing specific approach-avoidance theories into a coherent neuroscience of personality.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: © 2012, Elsevier. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International
Publisher Keywords: Personality; Economics; Anxiety; Fear; Aversion; Conflict; Behavioural inhibition; Behavioural approach system; Fight–flight–freeze system; Reinforcement sensitivity theory; Loss; Risk
Subjects: R Medicine > RC Internal medicine > RC0321 Neuroscience. Biological psychiatry. Neuropsychiatry
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
SWORD Depositor:
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