Experimental Economics

, Volume 20, Issue 1, pp 209–236 | Cite as

Risk preferences under acute stress

  • Jana Cahlíková
  • Lubomír Cingl
Original Paper


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.


Risk preferences Risk aversion Stress Laboratory stressor Trier social stress test Cortisol 

JEL Classification

C91 D03 D81 D87 



We want to express special gratitude to Michal Bauer for his help and encouragement. Next we express our thanks to Mathias Wibral, Frances Chen, Bertil Tungodden, Peter Martinsson, the editor and referees of this journal and the audience at 2013 Florence Workshop on Behavioral and Experimental Economics for their valuable comments; Bernadette von Dawans and Clemens Kirchbaum for providing all materials and helpful advice for the execution of the TSST-G procedure. The possibility to use the Laboratory of Experimental Economics in Prague and the possibility to use the heart-rate monitors of Faculty of Physical Education and Sport, Charles University are also gratefully acknowledged. We also thank Miroslav Zajicek, Klara Kaliskova, Lukas Recka, Tomas Miklanek, Jan Palguta, Michala Tycova, Ian Levely, Dagmar Strakova, Vaclav Korbel, Jane Simpson and Zuzana Cahlikova for their help with data collection. All errors remaining in this text are the responsibility of the authors. The research was supported by GA UK grant No. 4046/11. Jana Cahlíková also acknowledges support from the grant SVV-2012-265 801 and Lubomír Cingl acknowledges support by the grant SVV-2012-265 504.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOC 121 kb)
10683_2016_9482_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (2 mb)
Supplementary material 2 (PDF 2001 kb)


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Copyright information

© Economic Science Association 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Public EconomicsMax Planck Institute for Tax Law and Public FinanceMunichGermany
  2. 2.CERGE-EI, a joint workplace of Charles University in Prague and the Economics Institute of the Czech Academy of SciencesPragueCzech Republic
  3. 3.Faculty of Social Sciences, Institute of Economic StudiesCharles University in PraguePrague 1Czech Republic
  4. 4.Department of Institutional, Environmental and Experimental Economics, Faculty of EconomicsUniversity of Economics in PraguePragueCzech Republic

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