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The Behavioural Inhibition System, anxiety and hippocampal volume in a non-clinical population

Levita, Liat; Bois, Catherine; Healey, Andrew; Smyllie, Emily; Papakonstantinou, Evelina; Hartley, Tom; Lever, Colin

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Liat Levita

Catherine Bois

Andrew Healey

Emily Smyllie

Evelina Papakonstantinou

Tom Hartley


Background: Animal studies have suggested that the hippocampus may play an important role in anxiety as part of the Behavioural Inhibition System (BIS), which mediates reactivity to threat and punishment and can predict an individual’s response to anxiety-relevant cues in a given environment. The aim of the present structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) study was to examine the relationship between individual differences in BIS and hippocampal structure, since this has not received sufficient attention in non-clinical populations. Thirty healthy right-handed participants with no history of alcohol or drug abuse, neurological or psychiatric disorders, or traumatic brain injury were recruited (16 male, 14 female, age 18 to 32 years). T1-weighted structural MRI scans were used to derive estimates of total intracranial volume, and hippocampal and amygdala gray matter volume using FreeSurfer. To relate brain structure to Gray’s BIS, participants completed the Sensitivity to Punishment questionnaire. They also completed questionnaires assessing other measures potentially associated with hippocampal volume (Beck Depression Inventory, Negative Life Experience Survey), and two other measures of anxiety (Spielberger Trait Anxiety Inventory and the Beck Anxiety Inventory). Results: We found that high scores on the Sensitivity to Punishment scale were positively associated with hippocampal volume, and that this phenomenon was lateralized to the right side. In other words, greater levels of behavioural inhibition (BIS) were positively associated with right hippocampal volume. Conclusions: Our data suggest that hippocampal volume is related to the cognitive and affective dimensions of anxiety indexed by the Sensitivity to Punishment, and support the idea that morphological differences in the hippocampal formation may be associated with behavioural inhibition contributions to anxiety.


Levita, L., Bois, C., Healey, A., Smyllie, E., Papakonstantinou, E., Hartley, T., & Lever, C. (2014). The Behavioural Inhibition System, anxiety and hippocampal volume in a non-clinical population. Biology of mood & anxiety disorders, 4, Article 4.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Feb 19, 2014
Online Publication Date Mar 7, 2014
Publication Date Mar 1, 2014
Deposit Date Feb 24, 2014
Publicly Available Date Mar 20, 2014
Journal Biology of mood & anxiety disorders
Publisher BioMed Central
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 4
Article Number 4
Keywords Anxiety, Behavioural Inhibition System, Sensitivity to Punishment, Structural MRI, Hippocampus, Amygdala.


Published Journal Article (1.4 Mb)

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Copyright Statement
© 2014 Levita et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. <br /> This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly credited. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

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