Decision Making in Response to Physiological and Combined Physiological and Psychosocial Stress

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Individuals tend to make riskier decisions in response to stress. The magnitude of the stress effect on decision-making under risk seems to depend on the stressor type and the decision situation. We examined the effects of physiological and combined physiological and psychosocial stress on decision-making under risk and whether risk taking differs between women and men. Ninety female (n = 45) and male (n = 45) students completed a decision-making under risk task with explicit probabilities and without feedback after exposure to physiological (Cold Pressor Test, CPT), combined physiological and psychosocial (Socially Evaluated Cold Pressor Test, SECPT), or no stress (Warm Water Test, WWT). Subjective stress ratings, salivary cortisol, blood pressure, and heart rate indicated increased stress reactions to the CPT and SECPT compared with the WWT. We found no effect of condition, indicating no difference in risk taking between the CPT, SECPT, and WWT. We did find a sex effect, showing that men made riskier decisions compared with women. Unexpectedly, a Condition × Sex interaction indicated increased risk taking in men compared with women in reaction to the CPT and in women in reaction to the SECPT compared with the WWT. In summary, our results suggest that the sex of the individuum making the decision in combination with the stressor type influence decisions made under risk.

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