Behavioral inhibition system (BIS), behavioral activation system (BAS) and schizophrenia: relationship with psychopathology and physiology

J Psychiatr Res. 2006 Oct;40(7):638-45. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2006.03.005. Epub 2006 Apr 27.


Objective: The Behavioral Inhibition System (BIS) and the Behavioral Activation System (BAS) have been conceptualized as two neural motivational systems that regulate sensitivity to punishment (BIS) and reward (BAS). Imbalance in BIS and BAS levels has been reported to be related to various forms of psychopathology. Since sensitivity to stress has been supposed to be a pathway for the development of psychotic symptoms, the aim of this study is to examine BIS and BAS scores in schizophrenia and their relationship with psychopathology and physiology.

Method: Forty-two patients with schizophrenia (26 men, 16 women), stable on atypical antipsychotics, and 37 healthy controls (17 men, 20 women) were assessed with the use of the Behavioral Inhibition and Behavioral Activation scales. Since increased average heart rate (HR) and decreased heart rate variability (HRV) have been reported in patients with schizophrenia and have been shown to correlate with inhibited behaviour, these psychophysiological measures were also obtained. The BIS/BAS data and HR/HRV data were both analyzed by a (M)ANOVA. Correlation coefficients were computed for associations between BIS/BAS data, HR/HRV data, and patient variables.

Results: On the BIS, patients showed higher sensitivity to threat than control subjects. Higher BIS sensitivity correlated with longer duration of illness, and lower negative symptoms on the PANSS. The BAS scores did not reveal differences between patients and controls. In patients, low BAS sensitivity correlated with low dosage of medication. On the physiological measures patients showed a significantly higher HR and lower HRV compared to controls, which was limited to clozapine treated patients. No correlations were found between HR/HRV scores and BIS/BAS scores or patient variables.

Conclusions: Male as well as female patients with schizophrenia are more sensitive to threat than healthy controls. This may reflect a trait-related characteristic, and is not reflected in state-related psychophysiological measures.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Arousal / physiology*
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Humans
  • Inhibition, Psychological*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motivation*
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Psychopathology
  • Punishment
  • Reward
  • Schizophrenia, Paranoid / diagnosis
  • Schizophrenia, Paranoid / physiopathology*
  • Schizophrenia, Paranoid / psychology