Clinically effective drugs against human anxiety and fear systematically alter the innate defensive behavior of rodents, suggesting that in humans these emotions reflect defensive adaptations. Compelling experimental human evidence for this theory is yet to be obtained. We report the clearest test to date by investigating the effects of 1 and 2 mg of the anti-anxiety drug lorazepam on the intensity of threat-avoidance behavior in 40 healthy adult volunteers (20 females). We found lorazepam modulated the intensity of participants' threat-avoidance behavior in a dose-dependent manner. However, the pattern of effects depended upon two factors: type of threat-avoidance behavior and theoretically relevant measures of personality. In the case of flight behavior (one-way active avoidance), lorazepam increased intensity in low scorers on the Fear Survey Schedule tissue-damage fear but reduced it in high scorers. Conversely, in the case of risk-assessment behavior (two-way active avoidance), lorazepam reduced intensity in low scorers on the Spielberger trait anxiety but increased it in high scorers. Anti-anxiety drugs do not systematically affect rodent flight behavior; therefore, we interpret this new finding as suggesting that lorazepam has a broader effect on defense in humans than in rodents, perhaps by modulating general perceptions of threat intensity. The different patterning of lorazepam effects on the two behaviors implies that human perceptions of threat intensity are nevertheless distributed across two different neural streams, which influence effects observed on one-way or two-way active avoidance demanded by the situation.