Date of Award

Spring 2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Clinical Psychology

First Advisor

Porcelli, Anthony J.

Second Advisor

Nielson, Kristy A.

Third Advisor

Hoelzle, James J.


While acute stress exposure has been associated with modulation of risk-taking in decision making, the influence of stress on social decision making and trust has not been well-researched. The current study aims to advance scientific understanding of how stress influences trust behavior. Ninety-six participants (49 male and 47 female) engaged in an adapted Trust Game task, randomly assigned between-subjects to either an acute stress (cold pressor test or socially evaluative cold pressor test) or control group. The Trust Game was administered at different time points with respect to stress exposure to examine the potential differential roles of temporally distinct stress pathways (i.e., sympatho-adrenomedullary versus hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis reactivity). Stress-related sympathetic activation and HPA activation was observed for both acute stress groups compared to the control as well as subjective ratings of stress and affect. Participants exposed to acute stress (with or without a social evaluative component) exhibited reduced trust investing significantly less money in their Trust Game counterparts. No significant difference in investment was observed by timing of stress. Further, across all groups males invested significantly more money than females. Overall, exposure to acute stress elicited lower levels of trust suggesting stress may lead to “socially” risk-averse decision making. This finding replicates observations from a recent study on stress effects on trust decisions, though given limited research strong conclusions are premature. Additionally, lack of significant investment differences between stress groups involving social evaluation (or not) suggests social evaluation is not required to elicit reduced trust.