Discussion paper

DP12254 Stress induces contextual blindness in lotteries and coordination games

In this paper, we study how stress a ects risk taking in three tasks: individual lotteries,
Stag Hunt (coordination) games and Hawk-Dove (anti-coordination) games. Both
control and stressed subjects take more risks in all three tasks when the value of the
safe option is decreased and in lotteries when the expected gain is increased. Also,
subjects take longer to take decisions when stakes are high, when the safe option is less
attractive and in the conceptually more dicult Hawk-Dove game. Stress (weakly)
increases reaction times in those cases. Finally, our main result is that the behavior
of stressed subjects in lotteries, Stag Hunt and Hawk-Dove are all highly predictive
of each other (p-value < 0:001 for all three pairwise correlations). Such strong relationship
is not present in our control group. Our results illustrate a "contextual
blindness" caused by stress. The mathematical and behavioral tensions of Stag Hunt
and Hawk-Dove games are axiomatically di fferent, and we should expect diff erent behavior
across these games, and also with respect to the individual task. A possible
explanation for the highly signi cant connection across tasks in the stress condition
is that stressed subjects habitually rely on one mechanism to make a decision in all
contexts whereas unstressed subjects utilize a more cognitively
flexible approach.


Brocas, I, J Carrillo and R Kendall (2017), ‘DP12254 Stress induces contextual blindness in lotteries and coordination games‘, CEPR Discussion Paper No. 12254. CEPR Press, Paris & London. https://cepr.org/publications/dp12254