Costly habitual avoidance is reduced by concurrent goal-directed approach in a modified devaluation paradigm

Research output: Contribution to journalResearch articleContributedpeer-review



Avoidance habits potentially contribute to maintaining maladaptive, costly avoidance behaviors that persist in the absence of threat. However, experimental evidence about costly habitual avoidance is scarce. In two experiments, we tested whether extensively trained avoidance impairs the subsequent goal-directed approach of rewards. Healthy participants were extensively trained to avoid an aversive outcome by performing simple responses to distinct full-screen color stimuli. After the subsequent devaluation of the aversive outcome, participants received monetary rewards for correct responses to neutral object pictures, which were presented on top of the same full-screen colors. These approach responses were either compatible or incompatible with habitual avoidance responses. Notably, the full-screen colors were not relevant to inform approach responses. In Experiment 1, participants were not instructed about post-devaluation stimulus-response-reward contingencies. Accuracy was lower in habit-incompatible than in habit-compatible trials, indicating costly avoidance, whereas reaction times did not differ. In Experiment 2, contingencies were explicitly instructed. Accuracy differences disappeared, but reaction times were slower in habit-incompatible than in habit-compatible trials, indicating low-cost habitual avoidance tendencies. These findings suggest a small but consistent impact of habitual avoidance tendencies on subsequent goal-directed approach. Costly habitual responding could, however, be inhibited when competing goal-directed approach was easily realizable.


Original languageEnglish
Article number103964
JournalBehaviour Research and Therapy
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2021

External IDs

Scopus 85115109847
PubMed 34547635


Sustainable Development Goals


  • Costly avoidance, Devaluation paradigm, Goal-directed behavior, Habit

Library keywords