Faculty Mentor

Anthony J. Porcelli


Nataly Aguirre is a senior double majoring in psychology and Spanish. Nataly Aguirre is an Urban Scholar recipient. After graduation in May 2015, she plans to pursue Masters focusing in Experimental Psychology.



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Considerable research suggests acute stress influences decision-making. There has, however, been a lack of research examining the possibility that separable components of the stress response may influence decision-making differently: the sympatho-adrenomedullary (SAM) and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axes. In the current pilot study, participants engaged in a gambling task where they made choices between decisions of varied probability and magnitude for potential gains of money after being exposed to acute stress (via a variant of the cold pressor task). Further, the timing of the stressor was varied to allow examination of SAM and HPA effects separately. Cortisol and skin conductance were measured. Given the task was in the gain frame only, in support of past research on framing results indicated that individuals made significantly more conservative or risk-averse choices in the gambling. Further, risk-taking scaled to the expected value of a decision. Males made more risk-seeking choices as compared to females. Divergent from the original hypothesis, however, stress of neither type had an effect on individuals’ risk-taking overall, nor as a function of probability or magnitude. This suggests that decisions framed as potential gains may not be influenced by stress as readily as decisions framed as potential losses, and that stress may not alter how people perceive the probability or magnitude associated with a decision. Methodological flaws highlighted by the pilot study which may have contributed to the lack of a stress effect will also be discussed.

Publication Date

Summer 2013



Nataly Aguirre - Stress, Risk, and Reward in Financial Decision-Making: The Roles of Probability and Magnitude

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