Acute stress does not affect risky monetary decision-making

Peter Sokol-Hessner, Candace M. Raio, Sarah P. Gottesman, Sandra F. Lackovic, Elizabeth A. Phelps

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The ubiquitous and intense nature of stress responses necessitate that we understand how they affect decision-making. Despite a number of studies examining risky decision-making under stress, it is as yet unclear whether and in what way stress alters the underlying processes that shape our choices. This is in part because previous studies have not separated and quantified dissociable valuation and decision-making processes that can affect choices of risky options, including risk attitudes, loss aversion, and choice consistency, among others. Here, in a large, fully-crossed two-day within-subjects design, we examined how acute stress alters risky decision-making. On each day, 120 participants completed either the cold pressor test or a control manipulation with equal probability, followed by a risky decision-making task. Stress responses were assessed with salivary cortisol. We fit an econometric model to choices that dissociated risk attitudes, loss aversion, and choice consistency using hierarchical Bayesian techniques to both pool data and allow heterogeneity in decision-making. Acute stress was found to have no effect on risk attitudes, loss aversion, or choice consistency, though participants did become more loss averse and more consistent on the second day relative to the first. In the context of an inconsistent previous literature on risk and acute stress, our findings provide strong and specific evidence that acute stress does not affect risk attitudes, loss aversion, or consistency in risky monetary decision-making.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)19-25
Number of pages7
JournalNeurobiology of Stress
StatePublished - Dec 1 2016


  • Cortisol
  • Decision-making
  • Loss aversion
  • Risk attitudes
  • Stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Physiology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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