Recent studies in the field of neuropsychological decision-making, as well as moral psychology, emphasize the role of emotions in decision-making. The current study examines whether stress affects moral decision-making. We induced stress in 20 participants with the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) and also examined 20 participants in a control condition (Placebo TSST). The level of stress was assessed with questionnaires and endocrine markers (salivary cortisol and alpha-amylase). All participants performed a moral decision-making task in which everyday moral dilemmas were described. Dilemmas varied in emotional intensity and each offered a rather egoistic and a rather altruistic option. Results show that groups did not differ significantly in everyday moral decision-making. However, cortisol responses and egoistic decision-making in emotional dilemmas were positively correlated.
Our results indicate that stress per se does not cause more egoistic decision-making in the current setting but suggest an association between the individual’s cortisol stress response and egoistic decision-making in high-emotional situations.