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Stress senkt die Risikobereitschaft

Photo: istockphoto.de

Wer zu einem Vorstellungsgespräch geht, sollte sich vorab überlegen, wie viel Geld er verdienen möchte. Sonst verlangt er unter Umständen zu wenig. Jana Cahlikova und Cingl Lubomir haben nachgewiesen, dass psychosozialer Stress die Risikobereitschaft signifikant senkt. Das gilt vor allem für Männer. Die Wirkung auf Frauen ist schwächer und statistisch nicht signifikant.


Going to a job interview without having thought about your pay expectations? That is not a good idea, especially not, if you are male. You risk asking for too little. The economists Jana Cahlikova and Cingl Lubomir have found that psychosocial stress significantly increases risk-aversion for men when controlling for age and personality traits. The effect of stress on women goes in the same direction but is weaker and insignificant.

Many important decisions are made under stress and they often involve risky alternatives. Whereas there has been ample evidence that stress influences decision making, less is known about the casual relationship between stress and risk preferences. Influential theories in finance, labour economics, the economics of innovation or development economics assume that risk preferences remain stable as a personality trait. Adopting an experimental approach, Cahlikova and Cingl show that this does not apply when people feel stressed.

To evaluate the casual effect of psychosocial stress on risk attitudes, the economists randomly exposed participants to a highly efficient laboratory stress-induction procedure, the Trier Social Stress Test for Groups. Each participant was first asked to perform her best at a fictive job interview and afterwards to serially subtract 17 from a high number – all in front of an evaluation committee. A control group faced cognitively similar tasks but with no stressful aspects present. To evaluate whether people really get stressed or remain calm, the economists measured the level of a stress hormone cortisol, heart rate and the mood. Afterwards the researcher elicited the risk-preferences of the stressed participants and compared them to the non-stressed control group using a multiple price list format.

The main result of the study, namely that risk-aversion indeed increases under stress, has important consequences: for the proper formulation of economic theories, for the explanation of puzzling economic behaviour of people who have undergone a negative shock, for the formulation of policies addressing poverty, as poverty causes stress, and for creating policy recommendations for times of stress and panic.


Cahlíková, J., Cingl, L.: Risk preferences under acute stress. In: Experimental Economics, 2016, forthcoming. doi:10.1007/s10683-016-9482-3.

Dezember, 2016