Jeffrey Gray’s Factorial-Biological Theory of Personality

Gray’s personality theory is framed by biological and factorial paradigms; this means that it explains the differences between individuals based on variables related to the nervous system and that it is based on the grouping of different personality traits into higher dimensions through statistical analysis techniques.

In this article, we will analyze the main aspects of Gray’s model. Specifically, we will focus on the two basic personality factors and the two associated physiological mechanisms that this author has described: anxiety and the mechanism of behavioral inhibition and impulsivity and that of the behavioral approach.

    Jeffrey Gray’s personality theory

    British psychologist Jeffrey Alan Gray (1934-2004) presented in 1970 his factorial-biological theory on the structure and bases of interindividual personality differences; depending on the model, these are due to biological mechanisms which are they relate to reactions to reinforcement, to punishment or new stimuli and situations.

    In this sense, Gray described two main biological mechanisms that determine behavioral tendencies. He called one of them a “behavioral approach mechanism” and the other a “behavioral inhibition mechanism”; these would be equivalent to the basic personality factors, which would have a physiological basis.

    Gray’s personality theory it is largely based on Eysenck’s PEN model, Which defines three main biologically determined personality factors: neuroticism, extraversion and psychoticism. However, there are significant differences between the two theories which deserve to be commented on; we’ll stop at them later.

    Thus, Gray offers two fundamental dimensions of the personality: anxiety and impulsivity. The first combines the introversion and neuroticism of the Eysenck model; on the contrary, a high level of impulsivity would also imply a high neuroticism, but in this case it would be associated with an extraversion. Each dimension corresponds to a behavioral mechanism.

      Anxiety and behavioral inhibition mechanism

      According to Gray’s description, anxiety is a combination of neuroticism (or emotional instability) and introversion. In Eysenck’s model, extraversion is characterized by personality traits such as activity, dominance, assertiveness, sociability, and sensation seeking, and introversion is said to be its opposite.

      The behavioral inhibition mechanism, which is associated with this primary dimension of the personality, is mainly involved in the avoiding unpleasant situations and stimuliThat is to say, punishment. Since it is determined by biological type variables, the mechanism would be activated to a different degree in each person.

      Among the main functions of the mechanism of behavioral inhibition, and therefore of anxiety, we can highlight the response to punishment, the inhibition of obtaining reinforcers in certain circumstances (for example in the reinforcement delay) and the avoidance of new and potentially aversive stimuli.

      Having a high level of anxiety predisposes the person to experience it frequently frustration, fear, sadness and other unpleasant feelings. Therefore, this trait is associated with behavioral avoidance of stimuli perceived as anxious by the individual.

      Impulsivity and the behavioral approach mechanism

      The Gray model’s impulsivity factor combines high levels in the dimensions of Eysenck’s neuroticism and extraversion. In this case, the relevant biological system would be the behavioral approach mechanism which, when activated, would cause us to behave opposite to the inhibitory mechanism.

      So in this case prioritize getting rewards over avoiding punishment. This behavioral system favors the approach of new stimuli and situations and is mainly activated by the possibility of obtaining reinforcement, unlike the behavioral inhibition mechanism, which depends on punishment.

      According to Gray, people with a high level of behavioral (or impulsive, so to speak) approach mechanism tend to show more positive emotions such as joy more often. This could be related to the action of the neurotransmitter dopamine, Involved in the brain strengthening system and motivation.

      Similarities and differences with Eysenck’s theory

      Eysenck and Gray’s personality theories show obvious similarities; In the end, the second author mainly relied on the work of the first to develop his own model. Both are categorized into two broad paradigms for the study of personality: factorial and biological theories.

      A key difference between Gray’s and Eysenck’s personality theory is that the former places greater emphasis on physiological responses to different types of stimuli, while the PEN model is mainly based on classical conditioning, In the levels of brain activation and in the functioning of neurotransmitters.

      In any case, these are two complementary theories: since Gray started from Eysenck’s model, his factors can be added to those described by this author. Each of them explains different aspects of personality, and the traits they describe could be explained by different but interdependent biological variables.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Gray, JA (1970). The psychophysiological basis of introversion-extraversion. Behavioral Research and Therapy, 8 (3): 249-266.
      • Gray, JA (1981). A critique of Eysenck’s personality theory. In HJ Eysenck (Ed.), “A Model for the Personality”: 246-276.

      Leave a Comment