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The effects of stress and affiliation on social decision-making: Investigating the tend-and-befriend pattern

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Steinbeis,  Nikolaus
Department Social Neuroscience, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Engert,  Veronika
Department Social Neuroscience, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Linz,  Roman
Department Social Neuroscience, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Singer,  Tania
Department Social Neuroscience, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Steinbeis, N., Engert, V., Linz, R., & Singer, T. (2015). The effects of stress and affiliation on social decision-making: Investigating the tend-and-befriend pattern. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 62, 138-148. doi:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2015.08.003.


Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-0028-1DA6-2
Abstract
The prevalence of psychosocial stress in Western societies is constantly on the rise. Its influence on social decision-making, however, remains poorly understood. Whereas, it is known that stress triggers psychological and physiological defense mechanisms, indications of such patterns in social decisions are ambivalent. We sought to elucidate the underlying mechanisms of stress-induced social decisions. We recruited 145 men, who were individually exposed to either a psychosocial stressor or a control condition, while primed with affiliation by interacting either with members of an in- or an out-group. We found that stressed participants were less trusting and engaged in less costly punishment compared to the non-stressed control group. Interacting with out-group members led to less reciprocity and more spiteful punishment. There was no interaction between stress and the affiliation conditions in any of the used social-decision-making paradigms. Lastly, while stress-reactive cortisol levels had no effect on trust behavior, higher baseline cortisol was correlated with greater trust. Our findings suggest that previous ambiguities in data reported on the influence of stress on social decisions, namely tend-and-befriend behavior may have arisen through critical social confounds in the induction of stress. When controlling for potential social confounds, stress may trigger fight-or-flight behavior as indicated by increased social anxiety. These findings highlight the considerable context-dependence of psychosocial stress and its effects on social behavior.