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PeerJ. 2018 Jul 31;6:e5330. doi: 10.7717/peerj.5330. eCollection 2018.

A computer-based avatar task designed to assess behavioral inhibition extends to behavioral avoidance but not cognitive avoidance.

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School of Psychological Sciences, University of Northern Colorado, Greeley, CO, United States of America.


Avoidance is a common feature of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as well as anxiety and depressive disorders. Avoidance can be expressed behaviorally as well as cognitively. Most personality assessments for avoidance involve self-report inventories which are susceptible to biased responding. The avatar task (Myers et al., 2016a) was developed as an objective measure of behavioral inhibition (BI) which is defined as a tendency for avoidance of unfamiliar people and situations. The avatar task has been demonstrated to screen avoidant behaviors related to BI, PTSD, as well as harm avoidance (HA) as measured by the Tridimensional Personality Questionnaire (TPQ). In the current work, the avatar task was tested with cognitive as well as behavioral avoidance as measured by the cognitive-behavioral avoidance scale (CBAS; Ottenbreit & Dobson, 2004). The CBAS includes four subscales which measure behavioral social (BS) avoidance, behavioral non-social (BN) avoidance, cognitive social (CS) avoidance, and cognitive non-social (CN) avoidance. It was hypothesized that avatar scores would be significantly positively related to behavioral, but not cognitive, avoidance. In addition, it was also hypothesized that performance on the avatar task would be more related to social than non-social behavioral avoidance. Participants completed the avatar task, the HA scale of the TPQ and the CBAS. Pearson's product moment correlations revealed that avatar scores were significantly related to CBAS total scores as well as BS and BN scores, but not CS and CN scores. In addition, BS has a stronger relationship with avatar scores than BN avoidance which fits with the social aspects of the scenarios in the avatar task. A median split of the avatar scores produced a significant difference in scores on the behavioral but not the cognitive subscales. Overall, the current results supported the idea that the avatar task is measuring behavioral avoidance, specifically in social situations, rather than cognitive avoidance. Future work could adapt the avatar task to include scenarios similar to the cognitive items on the CBAS to create an objective measure of cognitive avoidance which may be relevant in measuring avoidance in depression and behavioral avoidance associated with PTSD as well as anxiety disorders.


Avoidance; Cognitive-behavioral avoidance scale; Computer based assessment; Personality assessment tools; Virtual reality

Conflict of interest statement

The author declares that he has no competing interests.

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