Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Dr. Amy Naugle

Second Advisor

Dr. Scott Gaynor

Third Advisor

Dr. Tamara Loverich

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Anthony DeFulio


Experiential avoidance, behavior analogue, cold pressor task, Trier social stress test


The purpose of the present study was to investigate the relationship between levels of state and trait experiential avoidance across two different contexts using behavior analogue methodology. Performance on the cold pressor task (threshold, tolerance, endurance, and intensity; Zettle et al., 2012) was compared to performance on a modified version of the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST; Kirschbaum et al., 1993) to obtain a behavioral measure of experiential avoidance that was standardized across these four behavioral indices. Data were collected from a convenience sample of undergraduate students (N = 133) from college classrooms on the campus of Western Michigan University. Participants completed the cold pressor task and TSST in a counterbalanced order. Trait and state-based measures of experiential avoidance, emotion dysregulation, positive and negative affect intensity, state and trait anxiety, interpersonal sensitivity, perceived pain tolerance, and fear of negative evaluations were measured at baseline along with average and maximum heart rate. State-based measures were completed again following each task and heart rate data were collected during five minutes of speech preparation as well as directly following the speech, arithmetic, and cold pressor task.

It was hypothesized that participants who reported higher levels of trait experiential avoidance would report decreased threshold, tolerance, and endurance as well as increased intensity of physical and social discomfort across the two behavioral measures, providing evidence that experiential avoidance can be conceptualized as a functional response class. These hypotheses were partially confirmed as high trait experiential avoiders rated the cold pressor task, speech, and arithmetic task as more intense than low trait avoiders. Those higher in trait experiential avoidance also tolerated the speech significantly less longer than those reporting lower levels of trait experiential avoidance. Trait experiential avoidance was also a predictor of positive affect intensity following both the cold pressor task and TSST and of state experiential avoidance post-TSST. Based on the results of an experimental manipulation check, participants in this study experienced significant increases in state experiential avoidance and reductions in positive affect intensity following each task. State anxiety increased from baseline to post-TSST. Decreased endurance of each task was predictive of greater state experiential avoidance and reductions in positive affect within each task.

Fear of negative evaluations and lower arithmetic task endurance were the best predictors of state experiential avoidance following the TSST. Lower endurance levels were also the best predictor of state experiential avoidance following the cold pressor task, but contrary to hypotheses this did not hold for the TSST. It was also found that state anxiety and fear of negative evaluations were the strongest predictors of state anxiety following the TSST above and beyond self-report and behavioral measures of experiential avoidance. In contrast with hypotheses, performance on the cold pressor task was not a significant predictor of performance on the TSST. However, speech task endurance and state experiential avoidance were the strongest predictors of arithmetic task endurance. The results of this study support the notion that context is an important factor in understanding experiential avoidance and the strategies used to manage discomfort in the moment following physical and social discomfort are multifaceted.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access