What is reinforcement sensitivity? Neuroscience paradigms for approach-avoidance process theories of personality

Smillie, Luke D.. 2008. What is reinforcement sensitivity? Neuroscience paradigms for approach-avoidance process theories of personality. European Journal of Personality, 22(5), pp. 359-384. ISSN 08902070 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

Reinforcement sensitivity is a concept proposed by Gray (1973) to describe the biological antecedents of personality, and has become the common mechanism among a family of personality theories concerning approach and avoidance processes. These theories suggest that 2–3 biobehavioural systems mediate the effects of reward and punishment on emotion and motivation, and that individual differences in the functioning of these systems manifest as personality. Identifying paradigms for operationalising reinforcement sensitivity is therefore critical for testing and developing these theories, and evaluating their footprint in personality space. In this paper I suggest that, while traditional self-report paradigms in personality psychology may be less-than-ideal for this purpose, neuroscience paradigms may offer operations of reinforcement sensitivity at multiple levels of approach and avoidance processes. After brief reflection on the use of such methods in animal models—which first spawned the concept of reinforcement sensitivity—recent developments in four domains of neuroscience are reviewed. These are psychogenomics, psychopharmacology, neuroimaging and category-learning. By exploring these paradigms as potential operations of reinforcement sensitivity we may enrich our understanding of the putative biobehavioural bases of personality.

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Date Deposited:

29 Mar 2011 12:14

Last Modified:

07 Dec 2012 12:56

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.



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