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In psychology, harm avoidance (HA) is a personality trait characterized by excessive worrying; pessimism; shyness; and being fearful, doubtful, and easily fatigued. In MRI studies HA was correlated with reduced grey matter volume in the orbito-frontal, occipital and parietal regions.[1][2]

Harm avoidance is a temperament assessed in the Temperament and Character Inventory (TCI), its revised version (TCI-R) and the Tridimensional Personality Questionnaire (TPQ) and is somewhat related to the trait "neuroticism" in the Revised NEO Personality Inventory and the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire, — all regarded as anxiety-related traits.

The HA of TPQ and TCI-R has four subscales:

  1. Anticipatory worry (HA1)
  2. Fear of uncertainty (HA2)
  3. Shyness/Shyness with strangers (HA3)
  4. Fatigability/Fatigability and asthenia (HA4)

It has been suggested that HA is related to high serotonergic activity,[3] and much research has gone into investigating the link between HA and components of the serotonin system, e.g., genetic variation in 5-HTTLPR in the serotonin transporter gene.[4]


  1. Cheung G.Stability of the harm avoidance personality trait in late-life depression. Int Psychogeriatr. 2007 Aug;19(4):778-80. PMID 17726762
  2. Gardini S, Cloninger CR, Venneri A. Brain Res Bull. Individual differences in personality traits reflect structural variance in specific brain regions. 2009 Jun 30;79(5):265-70. Epub 2009 Mar 28.PMID 19480986
  3. C. R. Cloninger (Autumn 1986). "A unified biosocial theory of personality and its role in the development of anxiety states". Psychiatric Developments 4 (3): 167–166. PMID 3809156.
  4. C. M. Mazzanti, J. Lappalainen, J. C. Long, D. Bengel, H. Naukkarinen, M. Eggert, M. Virkkunen, M. Linnoila & D. Goldman (October 1998). "Role of the serotonin transporter promoter polymorphism in anxiety-related traits". Archives of General Psychiatry 55 (10): 936–930. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.55.10.936. PMID 9783565.
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