Queen's University

Psychological flexibility under fire: Testing the incremental validity of experiential avoidance

Diagram for the project on experiential avoidance, by Queen's researcher Dr. Tara MacDonald. Experiential avoidance (EA), which is the preference for avoiding or suppressing the experience of internal events, is gaining increased currency as a predictor of responses to emotional events, including relationship distress in clinical contexts. Nonetheless, several issues challenge the credibility of its measures' discriminant and incremental validities. Furthermore, its application to subclinical populations is less understood.

In three studies using university samples, we examined the relevance of EA as a predictor of internal (emotional and cognitive) and external (behavioural) responses to imagined relationship conflicts. Despite consistently moderate associations between the EA measures and outcomes, we found that these associations were eliminated when hypothesized covariates (present affect, neuroticism, and anxious attachment) were included. Attachment anxiety predicted these outcomes over and above mood, neuroticism, and multiple EA measures, in all studies. Furthermore, study 3 shows how EA might better be conceived as a process by which mood, neuroticism, and attachment anxiety influence reactions – rather than an independent trait. Implications for future research on experiential avoidance are considered in light of these findings. (Read More)