Reactivity theory and the prediction of positive and negative affect

Douglas Malcolm Katz, Fordham University


The purpose of the current study was to examine the relative predictive strength of Eysenck's Extraversion and Gray's Anxiety on Positive Affect, as well as the relative predictive strength of Eysenck's Neuroticism and Gray's Anxiety on Negative Affect. Reactivity Theory, which postulates that both personality and affect derive from the differential sensitivity of two neurological structures, the Behavioral Activation System (BAS), which is responsive to rewarding stimuli, and the Behavioral Inhibition System (BIS), which is sensitive to punishing environmental stimuli (Gray, 1987). Both Eysenck's and Gray's personality dimensions have been associated with the BAS and BIS. However, empirical evidence suggests that Gray's Impulsivity and Anxiety reflect the sensitivity of the BAS and BIS, respectively, more accurately than Eysenck's Extraversion and Neuroticism. Therefore, in the current study, it was predicted that Impulsivity and Anxiety would predict Positive and Negative Affect with greater strength than Extraversion and Neuroticism. Participants were 862 men enrolled in the Normative Aging Study (NAS) an on-going longitudinal, interdisciplinary study (Bosse, Ekerdt, & Silbert, 1984; Bosse & Spiro, 1995). The mean age of the participants was 65 years and the age range was 45–92 years (SD = 7.78 years). Results of the regression analyses indicated that Impulsivity was not a stronger predictor of Positive Affect than Extraversion, and that Anxiety was not a stronger predictor of Negative Affect than Neuroticism. However, both Anxiety and Neuroticism made independent contributions to the prediction of Negative Affect. For Positive Affect, these results were explained by suggesting that although the Extraverted aspects of Impulsivity do result in Positive Affect, its more problematic attributes, such as aggression and lack of inhibition, diminish positive emotions. In contrast, because Extraverts express only the sociable aspects of BAS sensitivity, Extraversion is a stronger predictor of Positive Affect. For Negative Affect, it was suggested that because Neuroticism measures contain many items tapping discrete emotions, whereas the BIS scale used assesses the cognitive and behavioral components of Anxiety, Neuroticism is a stronger predictor of Negative Affect than Anxiety. However, because Anxiety did make an independent contribution to the prediction of Negative Affect, it is suggested that punishment-sensitive Introversion is also important for explaining personality-Negative Affect relations.

Subject Area

Developmental psychology|Personality

Recommended Citation

Katz, Douglas Malcolm, "Reactivity theory and the prediction of positive and negative affect" (2001). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3017552.