Experimental Economics

, Volume 20, Issue 1, pp 209–236

Risk preferences under acute stress

Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s10683-016-9482-3

Cite this article as:
Cahlíková, J. & Cingl, L. Exp Econ (2017) 20: 209. doi:10.1007/s10683-016-9482-3


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 

Supplementary material

10683_2016_9482_MOESM1_ESM.docx (120 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 121 kb)
10683_2016_9482_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (2 mb)
Supplementary material 2 (PDF 2001 kb)

Funding information

Funder NameGrant NumberFunding Note
  • 4046/11
  • 2012-265 801
  • 2012-265 504

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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