Role of Cortisol and Testosterone in Risky Decision-Making: Deciphering Male Decision-Making in the Iowa Gambling Task

Faculty: Varsha Singh

Summary

This study helps us understand a bit about how biological factors (e.g., sex and stress hormones) might contribute to cognitive processes such as decision-making and risk-taking.

Abstract

Despite the widely observed high risk-taking behaviors in males, studies using the Iowa gambling task (IGT) have suggested that males choose safe long-term rewards over risky short-term rewards. The role of sex and stress hormones in male decision-making is examined in the initial uncertainty and the latter risk phase of the IGT. The task was tested at peak hormone activity, with breath counting to facilitate cortisol regulation and its cognitive benefits. Results from IGT decision-making before and after counting with saliva samples from two all-male groups (breath vs. number counting) indicated that cortisol declined independent of counting. IGT decision-making showed phase-specific malleability: alteration in the uncertainty phase and stability in the risk phase. Working memory showed alteration, whereas inhibition task performance remained stable, potentially aligning with the phase-specific demands of working memory and inhibition. The results of hierarchical regression for the uncertainty and risk trials indicated that testosterone improved the model fit, cortisol was detrimental for decision-making in uncertainty, and decision-making in the risk trials was benefitted by testosterone. Cortisol regulation accentuated hormones’ phase-specific effects on decision-making. Aligned with the dual-hormone hypothesis, sex, and stress hormones might jointly regulate male long-term decision-making in the IGT.

Singh V (2021) Role of Cortisol and Testosterone in Risky Decision-Making: Deciphering Male Decision-Making in the Iowa Gambling Task. Frontiers in Neuroscience. 15:631195. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2021.631195