The Reinforcement Sensitivity Theory Of Personality

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The Reinforcement Sensitivity Theory of Personality

The Reinforcement Sensitivity Theory of Personality

The Reinforcement Sensitivity Theory (RST) of personality is a theoretical account of the neural and psychological processes underlying the major dimensions of personality. The first section of this introductory chapter traces the development of RST, from its official birth in 1970, through to Gray's highly influential 1982 The Neuropsychology of Anxiety and on to its major revision in 2000 with the second edition of this book (co-authored with Neil McNaughton) - this section may be read as an overview tutorial of RST. The second section discusses some of the major issues facing future RST research. The third section turns attention to the question of the level of behavioral control exerted by 'biological' and 'cognitive' processes, and discusses the implications of findings from consciousness studies for conceptualizing the role of these processes in RST.

Past and present

At the time of writing (2006), most empirical studies continue to test the unrevised (pre-2000) version of RST. But, in many crucial respects, the revised (2000) theory is very different, leading to the formulation of new hypotheses, some of which stand in opposition to those generated from the unrevised theory. This reluctance, or slowness, to adopt the new model is, no doubt, motivated as much by unfamiliarity and research inertia as it is by a careful evaluation of the merits of both versions. But there may be a different reason for this state of affairs and one that may continue to prevail in the RST research. Some personality researchers appreciate that RST encapsulates some of the core elements of emotion and motivation, as they relate to personality, especially the focus on approach and avoidance as the two fundamental dimensions of behavior. But they also think that the specific details of Gray's work are not entirely appropriate at the human level of analysis. For example, Carver and Schemer (1998; see Carver 2004) has made changes to the emotions.

The Reinforcement Sensitivity Theory of Personality

Associated with reward and punishment systems. Their view of these systems are reflected in the broad-band BIS-BAS scales of Carver and White (1994), which may be seen as reflecting general motivational tendencies of avoidance and approach rather than the specifics of the BIS and BAS as detailed in Gray's work. This shows that a 'family' forts-related theory has developed, which serves, depending on one's opinion, either to enrich or confuse the literature, especially when the same term ('BIS') is used to measure theoretically different constructs. Because the revised theory is even more specific about neural functions, derived largely from typical animal learning paradigms, there is little reason to think that this attitude will change once the revised theory is fully assimilated into RST thinking. In order to help researchers make a choice of hypotheses, this section details and contrasts the two versions of the theory.

Foundations of RST

Jeffrey Gray's approach to understanding the biological basis of personality to follow a specific pattern: (a) first determine the ...