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What Is a Behavioral Inhibition System?

What Is a Behavioral Inhibition System?
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  • 0:01 A Fear Reaction
  • 0:36 Motivation for Human Behavior
  • 0:59 Behavioral Activation System
  • 1:29 Behavioral Inhibition System
  • 2:57 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Yolanda Williams

Yolanda has taught college Psychology and Ethics, and has a doctorate of philosophy in counselor education and supervision.

In this lesson, we will discuss the behavioral inhibition system. We'll learn more about the behavioral inhibition system and how it differs from the behavioral activation system. At the end, you can test your knowledge with a quiz.

A Fear Reaction

Ron and Liam are two friends on a hiking trip in the Smoky Mountains. On their way up the mountain, they spot a northern copperhead, a poisonous snake. They immediately stop in their tracks, hoping that if they remain immobile, the snake will not notice them. After a few seconds, the snake moves off to the left and disappears. The two boys let out a sign of relief once they are out of danger. So why is it that Ron and Liam responded to seeing the snake the way that they did? To answer this question, we must look closely at the behavioral inhibition system.

Motivation for Human Behavior

The concept of the behavioral inhibition system was first developed by psychologist Jeffrey Gray. Gray theorized that there are two systems that motivate human behavior: the behavioral activation system, which is focused on rewards and goals, and the behavioral inhibition system, which is focused on punishment and avoidance. Let's look at these in more detail.

Behavioral Activation System

The behavioral activation system is activated from receiving cues in the environment that a reward may be received as a result of pursuing some behavior. The behavioral activation system is related to positive feelings, such as hope, happiness, and motivation. Suppose Ron and Liam both wanted to lose weight. Once they start hiking, they notice that they are building muscle and dropping weight. As a result, Ron and Liam decide to go on weekly hiking trips. This is an example of behavioral activation.

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