Risk preferences under acute stress
Many important decisions are made under stress and they often involve risky alternatives. There has been ample evidence that stress influences decision making, but still very little is known about whether individual attitudes to risk change with exposure to acute stress. To directly evaluate the causal effect of psychosocial stress on risk attitudes, we adopt an experimental approach in which we randomly expose participants to a stressor in the form of a standard laboratory stress-induction procedure: the Trier Social Stress Test for Groups. Risk preferences are elicited using a multiple price list format that has been previously shown to predict risk-oriented behavior out of the laboratory. Using three different measures (salivary cortisol levels, heart rate and multidimensional mood questionnaire scores), we show that stress was successfully induced on the treatment group. Our main result is that for men, the exposure to a stressor (intention-to-treat effect, ITT) and the exogenously induced psychosocial stress (the average treatment effect on the treated, ATT) significantly increase risk aversion when controlling for their personal characteristics. The estimated treatment difference in certainty equivalents is equivalent to 69 % (ITT) and 89 % (ATT) of the gender-difference in the control group. The effect on women goes in the same direction, but is weaker and insignificant.