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Jeffrey A. Gray on Reinforcement Sensitivity - Dictionary of Arguments

Corr I 348
Reinforcement Sensitivity Theory/Gray: Jeffrey Gray’s (1970(1), 1975(2), 1976(3), 1982(4)) neuropsychological theory of emotion, motivation, learning and personality is now widely known as RST.
Thesis: Stimuli per se do not affect behaviour (at least, in any simple sense); they merely have the potential to activate neuropsychological systems (i.e., internal processes) that control behavioural reactions: the mind is not a series of black boxes. For a fully-satisfying scientific explanation of behaviour control and regulation, it is to these neuropsychological systems that we must turn our attention.
Corr I 349
An (…) important aspect of RST is the distinction between those parts that belong to the conceptual nervous system (cns) and those parts that belong to the central nervous system (CNS) (a distinction advanced by Hebb 1955)(5) >Conceptual nervous System/Gray, >Terminology/Hebb, >Behavior/Gray.
Corr I 351
RST is built upon a description of the immediate/short-term state of neural systems: how animals, including the human form, respond to motivationally significant (i.e., ‘reinforcing’) stimuli, and which neuropsychological systems mediate these responses. Built upon this state infrastructure are longer-term trait dispositions of emotion, motivation and behaviour.
RST assumes that personality factors revealed by multivariate statistical analysis (e.g., factor analysis) reflect sources of variation in neuropsychological systems that are stable over time – that is, they are properties of the individual.
Corr I 359
RST/Gray: (summarized in the words of Fowles (2006)(6) p. 8.): „In this view, organisms are seen as maximizing exposure to rewarding (‘appetitive’) events and minimizing exposure to punishing (‘aversive’) events. Rewarding or appetitive events consist of the presentation of a reward (Rew), termination of a punishment (Pun!), or omission of an expected punishment (nonPun), while punishing or aversive events consist of the punishment (Pun), termination of reward (Rew!), and omission of an expected reward (nonRew). Through a process of classical conditioning, conditioned stimuli (CSs) paired with events come to acquire some of their emotional and motivational properties.“


1, Gray, J. A. 1970. The psychophysiological basis of Introversion–Extraversion, Behaviour Research and Therapy 8: 249–66
2. Gray, J. A. 1975. Elements of a two-process theory of learning. London: Academic Press
3. Gray, J. A. 1976. The behavioural inhibition system: a possible substrate for anxiety, in M. P. Feldman and A. M. Broadhurst (eds.), Theoretical and experimental bases of behaviour modification, pp. 3–41. London: Wiley
4. Gray, J. A. 1982. The neuropsychology of anxiety: an enquiry into the functions of the septo-hippocampal system. Oxford University Press
5. Hebb, D. O. 1955. Drives and the C. N. S. (Conceptual Nervous System), Psychological Review 62: 243–54
6. Fowles, D. C. 2006. Jeffrey Gray’s contributions to theories of anxiety, personality, and psychopathology, in T. Canli (ed.), Biology of personality and individual differences, pp. 7–34. New York: Guilford Press



Philip J. Corr, „ The Reinforcement Sensitivity Theory of Personality“, in: Corr, Ph. J. & Matthews, G. (eds.) 2009. The Cambridge handbook of Personality Psychology. New York: Cambridge University Press


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution.
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Gray, Jeffrey A.
Corr I
Philip J. Corr
Gerald Matthews
The Cambridge Handbook of Personality Psychology New York 2009

Corr II
Philip J. Corr (Ed.)
Personality and Individual Differences - Revisiting the classical studies Singapore, Washington DC, Melbourne 2018


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