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Stress and Temporal Discounting: Do Domains Matter?

Recent work in behavioral economics has asked whether stress affects economic choice. Here we focus on the effects of stress on temporal discounting, for which previous studies have produced inconsistent results. We hypothesize that different types of stress may differentially affect discounting. To test this hypothesis, we conducted laboratory experiments in Nairobi, Kenya, in which we induce stress in three domains: social (Trier Social Stress test); physical (Cold Pressor Task); and economic (Centipede Game). We find that the social stressor decreases temporal discounting; the physical stressor has no effect; and the economic stressor increases temporal discounting. However, these effects track those of the stressors on self-reported stress and negative affect: the economic stressor increased stress, while the physical stressor had no effect, and the social stressor actually decreased it. Together, these results suggest that different types of stress affect discounting in the same way, but different stress induction protocols may not affect stress in the same way in different populations.