Previous research has demonstrated that low doses of anxiogenic central benzodiazepine receptor (CBR) ligands, the beta-carbolines, improve performance in various learning and memory tests in animals if administered prior to training. The present experiments compared the effect of a beta-carboline (FG 7142) with that of a pharmacologically distinct anxiogenic compound, a peripheral benzodiazepine receptor (PBR) ligand, 4'-chlorodiazepam (Ro5-4864), in two tests of learning and memory in rats. As expected, FG 7142 significantly improved performance in a passive avoidance test. Ro5-4864 was without effect. In a shuttlebox escape test, Ro5-4864 significantly impaired performance while FG 7142 had no effect. The effect of Ro5-4864 was antagonized by the specific peripheral benzodiazepine receptor antagonist, PK 11195. These results indicate that the differential impact of CBR and PBR anxiogenic ligands on performance in aversively-motivated learning tests may be a reflection of their distinct pharmacologies.