Costly avoidance in anxious individuals: Elevated threat avoidance in anxious individuals under high, but not low competing rewards

Research output: Contribution to journalResearch articleContributedpeer-review



Background and objectives: When avoiding threat conflicts with approaching rewards, balanced responses to threat and reward information is required to guide functional behavior. Elevated threat avoidance characterizes anxious psychopathology. However, little is known about the mutual impact of threat and reward information on approach-avoidance behavior and its link to anxiety. Methods: High trait-anxious and low-anxious individuals (N = 74) repeatedly choose between two options. A threat/high-reward option was linked to two outcomes: a varying chance to receive an aversive stimulus and a varying high reward. A safe/low-reward option was linked to absence of the aversive stimulus and a low reward. Results: Avoidance of the threat/high-reward option increased with increasing threat. Despite threat, low-anxious individuals increasingly approached the threat/high-reward option when rewards increased. High- compared to low-anxious individuals showed elevated avoidance, but only in the presence of high competing rewards. Limitations: Future research should examine boundary conditions by manipulating type and motivational value of appetitive and aversive outcomes (e.g., food as primary reinforcer). Conclusions: These findings suggest that a weaker impact of rewards competing with threat contributes to elevated threat avoidance in anxious psychopathology. Costly avoidance may thus be a factor involved in anxious psychopathology.


Original languageEnglish
Article number101524
JournalJournal of behavior therapy and experimental psychiatry
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2020

External IDs

PubMed 31707292
ORCID /0000-0002-4408-6016/work/161406831


Sustainable Development Goals


  • Anxiety, Approach-avoidance behavior, Avoidance, Discounting