Do fear and catastrophizing about mental activities relate to fear-avoidance behavior in a community sample? An experimental study

Melloney Wijenberg, Johanne Rauwenhoff, Sven Stapert*, Jeanine Verbunt, Caroline van Heugten

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Introduction: Healthy people often experience headache, cognitive failures, or mental fatigue. Some people even experience these symptoms on a level comparable to patients with mild spectrum brain injuries. In these individuals, the fear-avoidance model explains symptoms as a consequence of catastrophizing and fear-avoidance toward mental activities. This experimental study investigated in healthy adults whether fear-avoidance and catastrophizing about mental activities are related to fear-avoidance behavior (i.e., behavioral avoidance of mental activities) according to the fear-avoidance model.
Method: A randomized crossover within-subject design was used with two measurements and 80 participants. Participants were exposed to three demanding cognitive tasks and their simplified counterparts. Post-concussion symptoms, catastrophizing, fear-avoidance, behavioral avoidance (time spent working on cognitive tasks), exposure to mental activity, depression, heart rate, and state-trait anxiety were assessed.
Results: Significant correlations between the variables of the fear-avoidance model were found. Furthermore, catastrophizers spent less time on difficult tasks compared to easy tasks. Both catastrophizing and female sex predicted time spent on difficult tasks, whereas only female sex predicted time spent on easy tasks.
Conclusions: This study found that, according to the fear-avoidance model, catastrophizing is related to behavioral avoidance of cognitively challenging tasks in a community sample.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)66-77
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology
Issue number1
Early online date10 Feb 2021
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Post-concussion-like symptoms
  • fear-avoidance model
  • catastrophizing brain injury
  • experiment

Cite this