The role of risk avoidance in anxiety

Behav Ther. 2006 Jun;37(2):181-9. doi: 10.1016/j.beth.2005.11.003. Epub 2006 Mar 29.


Various forms of disinhibitory psychopathology (e.g., substance use disorder) are characterized by a tendency to make overly risky decisions. The current paper reports on data suggesting that, in contrast, anxiety is associated with an exaggerated tendency to engage in risk-avoidant decision making. In a nonclinical sample of university students, trait anxiety was associated with relatively low willingness to take risks, across a range of behavioral contexts. Trait anxiety was also associated with pessimistic risk appraisals (e.g., heightened perceptions of the likelihood and severity of negative outcomes). Furthermore, these associations were apparent while controlling for depression. Additional findings suggest that heightened perceptions of the severity of negative outcomes might mediate the link between trait anxiety and risk avoidance. This research has implications for understanding the role basic risk decision-making processes may play in the nature and treatment of anxiety.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anxiety / diagnosis*
  • Anxiety / psychology*
  • Depression / diagnosis
  • Depression / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Risk Reduction Behavior*
  • Risk-Taking*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires