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Effects of Acute Stress on Decision Making

Abstract

The study examined the effects of a social stressor (Trier Social Stress Test) on 24 male and 32 female college students’ affective and physiological reactivity and their subsequent performance on a decision-making task (Iowa Gambling Task). The 56 participants were randomly assigned to a social stressor or a control condition. Compared to controls, participants in the stress condition responded with higher heart rates and skin conductance responses, reported more negative affect, and on the decision-making task made less advantageous choices. An exploratory regression analysis revealed that among men higher levels of heart rate were positively correlated with riskier choices on the Iowa Gambling Task, whereas for women this relationship was curvilinear. Exploratory correlational analyses showed that lower levels of skin conductance within the stress condition were associated with greater levels of substance use and gambling. The results suggest that the presence of a stressor may generally result in failure to attend to the full range of possible consequences of a decision. The relationship pattern between the degree of stress responding and successful decision making may be different for men and women.

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Correspondence to Stephanie E. Wemm.

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Wemm, S.E., Wulfert, E. Effects of Acute Stress on Decision Making. Appl Psychophysiol Biofeedback 42, 1–12 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10484-016-9347-8

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Keywords

  • Stress
  • Decision making
  • Heart rate
  • Skin conductance
  • Gender
  • Trier social stress test
  • Iowa gambling task