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Original Research ARTICLE Provisionally accepted The full-text will be published soon. Notify me

Front. Hum. Neurosci. | doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2019.00415

How Cortisol Reactivity Influences Prosocial Decision-making: The Moderating Role of Sex and Empathic Concern

  • 1Zhejiang University, China
  • 2University of Marburg, Germany
  • 3University of Vienna, Austria

The fight and flight theory and the tend-and-befriend theory suggest two opposite behavioral stress responses, and heterogeneous research results revealed the importance of taking sex into account. The experiment was designed to investigate the effect of stress-related cortisol reactivity on subsequent prosocial decision-making behaviors, and the moderating role of sex and empathic concern in the process. Sixty-one healthy students (34 women, 27 men) underwent the Trier Social Stress Test for Groups (TSST-G) or the control condition. Subsequently, participants completed three economic tasks ─ the dictator game, the ultimatum game, and the third-party compensation game. Statistical analyses revealed a significant main effect of cortisol reactivity on individuals’ third-party compensation behaviorssex. A sex-specific effect of stress-related cortisol change on prosocial behaviors was found, with men behaved more generously in the dictator game as stress-related cortisol reactivity increased. Furthermore, the level of empathic concern was found to moderate the association between stress-related cortisol change and prosocial behaviors, that individuals with a low level of empathic concern reported more generosity and third-party compensation behaviors. Overall, the present study contributes to a better understanding of the behavioral stress responses, that individuals whose hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis are highly activated in response to stress would exhibit tend-and-befriend responses, but only among men and those with a low level of empathic concern.

Keywords: cortisol, decision-making, Empathic concern, stress, Tend-and-befriend, sex difference

Received: 23 Jul 2019; Accepted: 08 Nov 2019.

Copyright: © 2019 Zhang, Ma and Nater. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Prof. Jianhong Ma, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou, 310058, Zhejiang Province, China, jhma@zju.edu.cn