Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

M.A. in Psychology



First Advisor

Danielle J. Maack

Second Advisor

Alan M. Gross

Third Advisor

Mervin Matthew

Relational Format



Avoidance is characterized as the inability of an individual to interact with a stimulus for the purpose of reducing distress. Avoidance increases the likelihood that distress and symptoms related to anxiety will increase. This may lead to further impairment and anxious pathology across the lifespan. Reinforcement Sensitivity Theory (RST) describes a temperamental vulnerability that influences approach (Behavioral Approach System; BAS) and avoidance (Behavioral Inhibition System; BIS) behaviors. The purpose of the study was to identify, using observed behavioral approach tasks, whether or not BIS/BAS influenced avoidant behavior above and beyond other avoidance vulnerabilities (anxiety sensitivity and emotion dysregulation). Participants (N=297) completed a packet of questionnaires, a series of behavioral approach tasks, and then were asked to report anxiety levels following task completion. Results indicated that BIS was not a significant predictor of approach distance [F(13, 189) = .96, p = .50] or self-reported anxiety [F(15,250) = 1.26, p = .23]. However, anxiety sensitivity was a significant predictor of reported anxiety across all stimuli [F(1, 268) = 24.761, p < .01]. These results suggest that anxiety sensitivity may be the best predictor of avoidance and anxiety. Future research may involve evaluating different behavioral stimuli, different modalities to assess sensitivity to cues of punishment, or other transdiagnostic vulnerabilities that may be influence avoidant behavior.



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