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Determinants of Propranolol’s Selective Effect on Loss Aversion

Sokol-Hessner, Peter and Lackovic, Sandra F. and Tobe, Russell H. and Camerer, Colin F. and Leventhal, Bennett L. and Phelps, Elizabeth A. (2015) Determinants of Propranolol’s Selective Effect on Loss Aversion. Psychological Science, 26 (7). pp. 1123-1130. ISSN 0956-7976. PMCID PMC4504802. doi:10.1177/0956797615582026.

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Research on emotion and decision making has suggested that arousal mediates risky decisions, but several distinct and often confounded processes drive such choices. We used econometric modeling to separate and quantify the unique contributions of loss aversion, risk attitudes, and choice consistency to risky decision making. We administered the beta-blocker propranolol in a double-blind, placebo-controlled within-subjects study, targeting the neurohormonal basis of physiological arousal. Matching our intervention’s pharmacological specificity with a quantitative model delineating decision-making components allowed us to identify the causal relationships between arousal and decision making that do and do not exist. Propranolol selectively reduced loss aversion in a baseline- and dose-dependent manner (i.e., as a function of initial loss aversion and body mass index), and did not affect risk attitudes or choice consistency. These findings provide evidence for a specific, modulatory, and causal relationship between precise components of emotion and risky decision making.

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Camerer, Colin F.0000-0003-4049-1871
Additional Information:© The Author(s) 2015. Received 7/28/14; Revision accepted 3/25/15. Published online before print June 10, 2015. Author Contributions: P. Sokol-Hessner designed the study with the assistance of B. L. Leventhal and E. A. Phelps. S. F. Lackovic and R. H. Tobe collected the data, and P. Sokol-Hessner, S. F. Lackovic, and R. H. Tobe analyzed the data. All authors contributed to drafting, editing, and developing the manuscript. Declaration of Conflicting Interests: The authors declared that they had no conflicts of interest with respect to their authorship or the publication of this article. Funding: This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health (Grant AG039283 to E. A. Phelps). Open Practices: All the data for this experiment have been made publicly available via Open Science Framework and can be accessed at The complete Open Practices Disclosure for this article can be found at This article has received the badge for Open Data. More information about the Open Practices badges can be found at and
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Subject Keywords:decision making, emotion, propranolol, loss aversion, risk attitudes, open data
Issue or Number:7
PubMed Central ID:PMC4504802
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20150622-134511512
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Official Citation:Peter Sokol-Hessner, Sandra F. Lackovic, Russell H. Tobe, Colin F. Camerer, Bennett L. Leventhal, and Elizabeth A. Phelps Determinants of Propranolol’s Selective Effect on Loss Aversion Psychological Science July 2015 26: 1123-1130, first published on June 10, 2015 doi:10.1177/0956797615582026
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:58409
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:22 Jun 2015 21:11
Last Modified:10 Nov 2021 22:04

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