The neural underpinnings of defensive behaviour have implications for both basic research and clinical translation. This review systematically collates published research on neural response during simple avoidance of threat and approach-avoidance behaviour during goal-conflicting situations and presents an exploratory meta-analysis of available whole-brain data. Scopus, PsychInfo and Web of Science databases were searched for the period up to March 2018. 1,348 simple avoidance and 1,910 goal-conflict publications were initially identified; following review, 8 simple avoidance and 11 goal-conflict studies were included, with 5 datasets used in a preliminary meta-analysis. A move from forebrain-to-midbrain activation as threat becomes more pertinent was noted, indicating support for the Reinforcement Sensitivity Theory of behaviour and general compatibility with animal work. However, these findings were not reflected in the subsequent preliminary meta-analysis. This review highlights the considerable heterogeneity in currently available defensive behaviour paradigms and the lack of research in clinically relevant populations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)71-84
Number of pages14
JournalNeuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews
Early online date3 Jan 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2019


  • Anxiety
  • Goal-conflict
  • Human behaviour
  • Individual differences
  • Neuroimaging
  • Threat response


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