Skip to main content

Transforming the understanding
and treatment of mental illnesses.

Celebrating 75 Years! Learn More >>

Research Domain Criteria - banner


RDoC Classification

Domain: Arousal and Regulatory Systems


Arousal is a continuum of sensitivity of the organism to stimuli, both external and internal. Arousal:

  1. Facilitates interaction with the environment in a context-specific manner (e.g., under conditions of threat, some stimuli must be ignored while sensitivity to and responses to others is enhanced, as exemplified in the startle reflex),
  2. Can be evoked by either external/environmental stimuli or internal stimuli (e.g., emotions and cognition),
  3. Can be modulated by the physical characteristics and motivational significance of stimuli,
  4. Varies along a continuum that can be quantified in any behavioral state, including wakefulness and low-arousal states including sleep, anesthesia, and coma,
  5. Is distinct from motivation and valence but can covary with intensity of motivation and valence,
  6. May be associated with increased or decreased locomotor activity, and
  7. Can be regulated by homeostatic drives (e.g., hunger, sleep, thirst, sex).


AcetylcholineCRFCytokinesDopamineGABAGhrelinGlutamateHistamineHypocretin/OrexinLeptinNeuropeptide YNorepinephrineOpioidOxytocinSerotoninVasopressin


Basal Forebrain NucleiCentral Nucleus AmygdalaDorsal RapheLateral, perifornical, and dorsomedial hypothalamusLDTLocus CoeruleusPPTTuberomammillary NucleusVentral Tegmental Area


Basal forebrain nuclei to cortical circuitsBrainstem monoaminergic and cholinergic projections to basal forebrainCentral Amygdala to monoaminergic and basal forebrain cholinergic nucleiCholinergic and monoaminergic nuclei projections to thalamic and corticalCircadian and Sleep-related circuits modulate arousal and are modulated by arousalCortical circuits such as fronto-insular and dorsal anterior cingulateHypothalamic to thalamic and cortical circuitsProjections to midbrain and pontine monoaminergic and cholinergic nucleiReciprocal hypothalamicReciprocal NTS-Central N. AmygdalaReciprocoal cholinergic and monoaminergic projection


EEGEMGERPfMRINeural activitySex-Specific differences in arousal


Blood pressureBreathingGalvanic skin responseHeart RatePupil size

HPA axis



Affective statesAgitationCognitionEmotional ReactivityEye BlinkMotivated BehaviorMotor ActivitySensory ReactivityStartleWaking


ADACLPOMS arousal subscaleSelf-assessment Mannequin


Cardiac Pre-ejection PeriodElectrodermal RespondingHeart rate variability (HRV)Psychomotor Vigilance TaskPupillometry