No fear no risk! Human risk behavior is affected by chemosensory anxiety signals

Neuropsychologia. 2010 Nov;48(13):3901-8. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2010.09.019. Epub 2010 Sep 25.


An important aspect of cognitive functioning is decision-making, which depends on the correct interpretation of emotional processes. High trait anxiety has been associated with increased risk taking behavior in decision-making tasks. An interesting fact is that anxiety and anxiety-related chemosignals as well as decision-making share similar regions of neuronal activation. In order to ascertain if chemosensory anxiety signals have similar effects on risk taking behavior of healthy participants as high trait anxiety we used a novel computerized decision-making task, called Haegler's Risk Game (HRG). This task measures risk taking behavior based on contingencies and can be played repeatedly without a learning effect. To obtain chemosensory signals the sweat of 21 male donors was collected in a high rope course (anxiety condition). For the chemosensory control condition sweat was collected during an ergometer workout (exercise condition). In a double-blind study, 30 healthy recipients (16 females) had to play HRG while being exposed to sweat samples or empty control samples (control condition) in three sessions of randomized order. Comparison of the risk taking behavior of the three conditions showed significantly higher risk taking behavior in participants for the most risky choices during the anxiety condition compared to the control conditions. Additionally, recipients showed significantly higher latency before making their decision in the most risky choices during the anxiety condition. This experiment gives evidence that chemosensory anxiety signals are communicated between humans thereby increasing participants' risk taking behavior.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Anxiety / psychology*
  • Attention
  • Decision Making*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Female
  • Games, Experimental
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Odorants
  • Pheromones, Human*
  • Pilot Projects
  • Risk-Taking*
  • Statistics, Nonparametric
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Sweat


  • Pheromones, Human