Behavioral and Brain Sciences

Target Article

Précis of The neuropsychology of anxiety: An enquiry into the functions of the septo-hippocampal system

Jeffrey A. Graya1

a1 Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 3UD, England


A model of the neuropsychology of anxiety is proposed. The model is based in the first instance upon an analysis of the behavioural effects of the antianxiety drugs (benzodiazepines, barbiturates, and alcohol) in animals. From such psychopharmacologi-cal experiments the concept of a “behavioural inhibition system” (BIS) has been developed. This system responds to novel stimuli or to those associated with punishment or nonreward by inhibiting ongoing behaviour and increasing arousal and attention to the environment. It is activity in the BIS that constitutes anxiety and that is reduced by antianxiety drugs. The effects of the antianxiety drugs in the brain also suggest hypotheses concerning the neural substrate of anxiety. Although the benzodiazepines and barbiturates facilitate the effects of γ-aminobutyrate, this is insufficient to explain their highly specific behavioural effects. Because of similarities between the behavioural effects of certain lesions and those of the antianxiety drugs, it is proposed that these drugs reduce anxiety by impairing the functioning of a widespread neural system including the septo-hippocampal system (SHS), the Papez circuit, the prefrontal cortex, and ascending monoaminergic and cholinergic pathways which innervate these forebrain structures. Analysis of the functions of this system (based on anatomical, physiological, and behavioural data) suggests that it acts as a comparator: it compares predicted to actual sensory events and activates the outputs of the BIS when there is a mismatch or when the predicted event is aversive. Suggestions are made as to the functions of particular pathways within this overall brain system. The resulting theory is applied to the symptoms and treatment of anxiety in man, its relations to depression, and the personality of individuals who are susceptible to anxiety or depression.