Determinants of Propranolol’s Selective Effect on Loss Aversion

Peter Sokol-Hessner, Sandra F. Lackovic, Russell H. Tobe, Colin F. Camerer, Bennett L. Leventhal, Elizabeth A. Phelps

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Research on emotion and decision making has suggested that arousal mediates risky decisions, but several distinct and often confounded processes drive such choices. We used econometric modeling to separate and quantify the unique contributions of loss aversion, risk attitudes, and choice consistency to risky decision making. We administered the beta-blocker propranolol in a double-blind, placebo-controlled within-subjects study, targeting the neurohormonal basis of physiological arousal. Matching our intervention’s pharmacological specificity with a quantitative model delineating decision-making components allowed us to identify the causal relationships between arousal and decision making that do and do not exist. Propranolol selectively reduced loss aversion in a baseline- and dose-dependent manner (i.e., as a function of initial loss aversion and body mass index), and did not affect risk attitudes or choice consistency. These findings provide evidence for a specific, modulatory, and causal relationship between precise components of emotion and risky decision making.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1123-1130
Number of pages8
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 16 2015


  • decision making
  • emotion
  • loss aversion
  • open data
  • propranolol
  • risk attitudes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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