Acute Stress Reduces the Social Amplification of Risk Perception

Sci Rep. 2020 May 12;10(1):7845. doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-62399-9.


Risk perceptions typically underlie a complex social dynamic: Risk-related information is transmitted between individuals, this information influences risk perceptions, and risk perceptions influence which information is transmitted. This can lead to a social amplification of risk. We test how stress, a widespread affective state, influences the social dynamics of risk perception. Participants (N = 146) read articles about the controversial antibacterial agent Triclosan and were then asked to inform another person about Triclosan. Before and after reading the articles, participants reported their concern about Triclosan. Stress exposure before the task led to a smaller increase in concern in response to the articles. The stronger the increase in cortisol, the smaller the increase in concern. Furthermore, participants in the stress group transmitted less negative information about Triclosan to others. In contrast, participants' subjective feelings of stress were associated with higher concern and more alarming risk communication. We conclude that feeling stressed can amplify risk perception, whereas the endocrine stress reaction can attenuate risk perception when information about risk is exchanged in a social context.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Perception*
  • Risk
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*
  • Young Adult