Parsing the Role of the Hippocampus in Approach-Avoidance Conflict

Cereb Cortex. 2017 Jan 1;27(1):201-215. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhw378.


The hippocampus plays a central role in the approach-avoidance conflict that is central to the genesis of anxiety. However, its exact functional contribution has yet to be identified. We designed a novel gambling task that generated approach-avoidance conflict while controlling for spatial processing. We fit subjects' behavior using a model that quantified the subjective values of choice options, and recorded neural signals using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Distinct functional signals were observed in anterior hippocampus, with inferior hippocampus selectively recruited when subjects rejected a gamble, to a degree that covaried with individual differences in anxiety. The superior anterior hippocampus, in contrast, uniquely demonstrated value signals that were potentiated in the context of approach-avoidance conflict. These results implicate the anterior hippocampus in behavioral avoidance and choice monitoring, in a manner relevant to understanding its role in anxiety. Our findings highlight interactions between subregions of the hippocampus as an important focus for future study.

Keywords: anxiety; approach–avoidance; decision-making; exploration; hippocampus.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anxiety / physiopathology*
  • Avoidance Learning*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Conflict, Psychological*
  • Decision Making*
  • Fear*
  • Female
  • Gambling / physiopathology*
  • Hippocampus / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Male