Rats received excitotoxic lesions of different subsystems within the hippocampal system--either the hippocampus proper (cornu ammonis and dentate gyrus; hippocampal lesions) or the entorhinal cortex-subicular region (entorhinal lesions). Subsequently, their activity in an operant chamber was monitored both before and after footshock had been delivered (Experiment 1). Rats with hippocampal lesions showed enhanced activity before the delivery of footshock and reduced freezing after the delivery of shock. Rats with entorhinal lesions showed control levels of activity before the delivery of footshock and control levels of freezing after the delivery of footshock. Both types of lesion impaired spatial learning in a water maze (Experiment 2). These results suggest that the deficits arising from damage to the hippocampal system in contextual and spatial learning have different origins.