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Neuropsychopharmacology. 2018 Jan;43(2):334-341. doi: 10.1038/npp.2017.75. Epub 2017 Apr 14.

Combined Effects of Glucocorticoid and Noradrenergic Activity on Loss Aversion.

Author information

Comparative Psychology, Heinrich Heine University, Düsseldorf, Germany.
Department of Marketing, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, USA.
Institute of Clinical Neuroscience and Medical Psychology, Heinrich Heine University, Düsseldorf, Germany.
Department of Cognitive Psychology, Institute of Psychology, University of Hamburg, Hamburg, Germany.


Loss aversion is a well-known behavioral regularity in financial decision making, describing humans' tendency to overweigh losses compared to gains of the same amount. Recent research indicates that stress and associated hormonal changes affect loss aversion, yet the underlying neuroendocrine mechanisms are still poorly understood. Here, we investigated the causal influence of two major stress neuromodulators, cortisol and noradrenaline, on loss aversion during financial decision making. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled between-subject design, we orally administered either the α2-adrenergic antagonist yohimbine (increasing noradrenergic stimulation), hydrocortisone, both substances, or a placebo to healthy young men. We tested the treatments' influence on a financial decision-making task measuring loss aversion and risk attitude. We found that both drugs combined, relative to either drug by itself, reduced loss aversion in the absence of an effect on risk attitude or choice consistency. Our data suggest that concurrent glucocorticoid and noradrenergic activity prompts an alignment of reward- with loss-sensitivity, and thus diminishes loss aversion. Our results have implications for the understanding of the susceptibility to biases in decision making.

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