Experiential avoidance reflects the unwillingness to experience uncomfortable thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations - thereby moving beyond the behavioral avoidance of situations to also include internal states (Hayes, Wilson, Gifford, Follette, & Strosahl, 1996). Despite being one of the most studied transdiagnostic constructs in the past decade, measurement issues exist. Since experiential avoidance captures beliefs and behaviors in response to distress (i.e., meta-emotions), existing self-report measures run the risk of simply assessing distress rather than reactions.
We compared two self-report measures of experiential avoidance: The Acceptance and Action Questionnaire (AAQ-II) and the Brief Multidimensional Experiential Avoidance Questionnaire (BMEAQ). We hypothesized that the meta-emotional items of the AAQ-II and BMEAQ would relate strongly to psychological distress such that items would lack discriminant validity. To test our hypotheses, we conducted an online survey study with American adults. We recruited 403 participants via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (July, 2016). With respect to psychological distress, the Mini International Personality Item Pool measured neuroticism, the Brief Mood Induction Measure measured negative affect, and the Depression, Anxiety, and Stress Scales measured internalizing symptoms.
We found that all 7 AAQ-II items correlated above .50 with neuroticism and negative affect total scores and correlated above .60 with depression, anxiety, and stress total scores. Of the 16 BMEAQ items, more than half correlated below .25 with neuroticism, negative affect, depression, anxiety, and stress total scores; all other items correlated below .40. We then tested whether the AAQ-II and BMEAQ represented a factor different from psychological distress. Using Mplus 7.4, total scores for the AAQ-II and BMEAQ were correlated with a latent factor indicated by neuroticism, negative affect, and internalizing symptoms. The AAQ-II correlation was .85 while the BMEAQ correlation was .50. The BMEAQ items and total score appears to have greater discriminant validity from psychological distress than the AAQ-II.
David Disabato– Clinical Doctoral Student, George Mason University
Todd Kashdan– Full Professor, George Mason University
Fallon Goodman– Clinical Doctoral Student, George Mason University
Maria Larrazabal– Post-Baccalaureate, George Mason University
John West– Post-Baccalaureate, George Mason University