Chronic stress promotes risk loving behavior in young adults

Ceccato, Smarandita; Kudielka, Brigitte M.; Schwieren, Christiane
January 2014
NeuroPsychoEconomics Conference Proceedings;2014, p41
Conference Proceeding
Chronic stress, the consequence of prolonged exposure to one or multiple stressors, is a public health problem that affects a significant part of the population. While the bodily "wear-and-tear" caused by chronic stress is under thorough investigation, its cognitive effects, especially those affecting decision making processes, have not been systematically investigated. This preliminary study examines if chronic stress influences economic decision making under risk. We expect to find behavioural differences between chronically stressed and nonchronically stressed individuals, as chronic stress is known to affect neurological structures involved in learning, memory and decision making. To our knowledge, we are the first to investigate this relation. 213 young adults (< 33 years old) performed a task investigating decision making under risk through financially incentivized lotteries (without feedback) and responded to the Trier Inventory of Chronic Stress (TICS). The risk task includes a wide range of probability distributions and payoffs, offering the possibility to examine financial risk attitudes. We used the exam period of the winter semester as a "natural" chronic stress treatment. Parametric variation of chronic stress period (pre-stress group and stress group) and number of observations (repeated observations, i.e., pre-stress and stress period, and single observations, i.e., one of the two periods) allowed us to directly compare risk taking behaviour in various chronic stress clusters. We uncovered a significant, positive correlation between chronic stress and risk taking. This relation is further emphasized by group comparisons, as individuals that report higher specific chronic stress take significantly more risk than those reporting lower stress levels. The results show that chronic stress might be affecting economic decision making under risk. Further research with respect to generalizability and uncovering the underlying mechanisms is necessar


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