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Thirty-Third Annual Meeting of the Society for Research in Psychopathology

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119. Experiential Avoidance and Cognitive Effort: Implications for Intervention Outcome Assessments

One aspect of experiential avoidance is the avoidance of cognitive effort, a key symptom in psychopathology related to anhedonia. Recent research suggests that this construct is not only limited to physical effort, but includes cognitive effort as well, which can be measured using the Cognitive Effort Expenditure for Rewards Task, (C-EEfRT; Lopez-Gamundi and Wardle, 2018). Contemporary interventions, like Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) emphasize psychopathology symptoms like the avoidance of cognitive effort at subsyndromal levels as part of “destructive normality” or suffering that is a fundamental part of the human experience. The Acceptance and Action Questionnaire-II (AAQ-II; Bond et al., 2011) is ACT’s core outcome measure, using self-reported experiential avoidance of internal experiences and attempts to control thoughts. Tyhis study was designed to examine how self-reported experiential avoidance of cognitive effort relates to performance-based motivation assessments sampling cognitive effort. Using a translational approach we tested undergraduates who completed a variant of the self-report AAQ for avoidance of cognitive effort (AAQ-C) specifically. While this scale was highly correlated with the original AAQ-II (r = .88, p < .0001), linear modeling found neither median subjective value, nor inflection points on the C-EEfRT were related to total AAQ-C or AAQ-II scores. While ACT seeks to reduce avoidance behaviors and thereby increase desirable behaviors, one of which is the expenditure of cognitive effort towards goals, self-reporting of experiential avoidance of cognitive effort appears independent of actual task-based cognitive effort. These data suggest that task-based behaviors provide an independent, and potentially important, perspective on changes in treatment.

Joshua Mervis
University of Minnesota

Wonjung Hwang
University of Minnesota

Angus MacDonald, III
University of Minnesota


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