Decisions under distress: stress profiles influence anchoring and adjustment

Psychol Sci. 2009 Nov;20(11):1394-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02455.x. Epub 2009 Oct 14.


People frequently make decisions under stress. Understanding how stress affects decision making is complicated by the fact that not all stress responses are created equal. Challenge states, for example, occur when individuals appraise a stressful situation as demanding, but believe they have the personal resources to cope, and are characterized by efficient cardiovascular reactivity and approach motivation. Threat states, in contrast, occur when situational demands are perceived to outweigh resources and are characterized by less efficient cardiovascular reactivity and withdrawal motivation. We randomly assigned participants to social-feedback conditions (i.e., positive or negative feedback) designed to engender challenge or threat, or a no-stress condition. Participants then completed an anchoring-and-adjustment questionnaire. Those assigned to the challenge condition adjusted more from self-generated anchors than those assigned to the threat condition. Cardiovascular responses mediated the relationship between condition and adjustment. This study demonstrates the importance of considering profiles of cardiovascular reactivity when examining the influence of stress on decision making.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological* / physiology
  • Adult
  • Arousal* / physiology
  • Cardiac Output / physiology
  • Decision Making* / physiology
  • Electrocardiography
  • Feedback, Psychological
  • Female
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Humans
  • Intuition
  • Male
  • Motivation*
  • Parasympathetic Nervous System / physiology
  • Problem Solving* / physiology
  • Self Efficacy*
  • Signal Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Speech / physiology
  • Sympathetic Nervous System / physiology
  • Young Adult