Multiple stress pathways can impact economic decision making. Two of these stress systems are the SAM axis and HPA axis. Prior research suggested that these pathways have the potential to exert independent alterations to economic decision performance, each with its own distinctive time course. In addition, stress has been found in general to alter salience (how important information is), but how this effect impacts specific economic dimensions (e.g. magnitude, loss or gain) has yet to be tested. Finally, the literature does not use the temporal profiles of the SAM and HPA axes to determine economic performance differences related to specific stress pathway responses. To address how the salience of different dimensions of financial information changes under stress and the impact of the SAM and HPA axes on economic decision making, the current study aimed to: 1) Examine the effects of acute stress on economic decision making based on the specific temporal profiles of each stress pathway, and 2) Examine the qualitatively distinct effects of stress on decision making from each pathway. The established temporal pattern of the SAM axis first, HPA axis later determined neural responses to an acute stressor during a given time block. In Experiment 1, the salience of individual dimensions of financial information was directly tested (e.g., magnitude, domain) to determine if basic components lead to performance differences, and/or were stress pathway dependent. While economic dimensions impacted behavior, stress did not affect how economic dimensions are responded to. Experiment 2 investigated the impact of each pathway on more complex financial behaviors (e.g. loss aversion and risk aversion). Risk aversion was decreased under SAM axis activation only. Loss aversion increased as an effect of time but was not dependent on stress. The results indicated economic dimensions and timing, including immediate neural stress pathway activation, have significant impacts on financial behaviors.


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Graduation Date





Lighthall, Nichole


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Sciences



Degree Program

Psychology; Human Factors Cognitive Psychology




CFE0008832; DP0026111





Release Date

December 2026

Length of Campus-only Access

5 years

Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Campus-only Access)

Restricted to the UCF community until December 2026; it will then be open access.