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Anxiety Sensitivity Moderates Behavioral Avoidance in Anxious Youth


Anxiety Sensitivity Moderates Behavioral Avoidance in Anxious Youth

Eli R Lebowitz et al. Behav Res Ther.


Individuals who are high in anxiety sensitivity (AS) are motivated to avoid sensations of anxiety. Consequently, AS is hypothesized to contribute to overall avoidance of any feared stimuli. No studies have yet examined whether fear of a stimulus is a stronger predictor of behavioral avoidance in individuals who are high in AS compared to individuals who are low in AS. We examined whether AS moderates the association between fear of spiders and behavioral avoidance of spider stimuli in 50 clinically anxious youth. Fear of spiders significantly predicted avoidance of spider stimuli in youth high in AS but not in youth low in AS. These results provide support for the role of AS in avoidant behavior and help to explain the link between AS and the anxiety disorders. The results have implications for exposure-based anxiety treatments and highlight the importance of increasing anxious patients' ability to tolerate sensations of anxiety.

Keywords: Anxiety; Anxiety disorders; Anxiety sensitivity; Avoidance; Cognitive behavior therapy; Exposure; Fear.

Conflict of interest statement

Conflict of Interest



Fig. 1
Fig. 1
Illustrates a participant engaging in the YIKES behavioral avoidance task (A); and what the participant sees on the screen (B).
Fig. 2
Fig. 2
Participant time × Location data is first smoothed to a spline curve (A); and then extrema are identified as points at which the participant changed direction (B). This Figure is a sample of a single participant’s data from 1 min of observed behavior.
Fig. 3
Fig. 3
Separate regression slopes for the relation between fear of spiders and avoidance of spider images, at high (β= 0.77, 95% CI: 0.43 to 1.11, p < 0.001), moderate (β= 0.31, 95% CI: −0.01 to 0.64, p = 0.06), and low (β= −0.14, 95% CI: −0.62 to 0.34, p = 0.55) levels of anxiety sensitivity.

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