The most common theory to date is that behavioural inhibition is developed from negative reinforcement.
Gray's biopsychological theory of personality
the Behavioural Inhibition System (BIS) and the Behavioural Activation
System (BAS) ../.. The BIS is thought to be related to sensitivity
to punishment as well as avoidance motivation, while the BAS is
thought to be related to sensitivity to reward as well as approach
There is some research that suggests that the BIS scale is better correlated with neuroticism and negative affectivity, rather than anxiety.
The BIS scale was less correlated with anxiety and depression symptoms
than are neuroticism and negative affectivity scales, probably because
it is designed to measure predisposition to anxiety rather than the
experience of anxiety. BIS scores were higher in females,...1
Brain Functions: Behavioral Inhibition, Behavioral Flexibility, and Cognitive Control
Discusses how we modify our behaviour and suggests that some behaviour is inhibited in an "auto-pilot" manner by the prefrontal cortex to free up our brain for more complex thought processes.
We can inhibit our actions and behaviors while they are in progress,
and we can also inhibit our emotions and memories. Different parts of
the prefrontal cortex, at the very front of the brain, are used to
interrupt these various types of behaviors or thoughts. Some theories
even suggest that the role of the prefrontal cortex is to stop all
ill-suited actions or thoughts, to leave room for more appropriate
Overall, there are numerous studies showing a link between anxiety and experience of a fear based reward system with behavioural inhibition.2
1 Using the BIS/BAS scales to measure behavioural inhibition and behavioural activation: Factor structure, validity and norms in a large community sample
A.F JormCorresponding author contact information, H Christensen, A.S Henderson, P.A Jacomb, A.E Korten, B Rodgers
NHMRC Psychiatric Epidemiology Research Centre, The Australian National University, Canberra 0200, Australia
2 J Child Fam Stud. 2011 April; 20(2): 157–170.
Published online 2010 March 17. doi: 10.1007/s10826-010-9365-8
Behavioral Inhibition as a Risk Factor for the Development of Childhood Anxiety Disorders: A Longitudinal Study
Peter Muris,corresponding author1 Anna M. L. van Brakel,2 Arnoud Arntz,2 and Erik Schouten2