Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


College of Humanities and Social Sciences



Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Michael Bixter

Committee Member

Kenneth Sumner

Committee Member

Jason Dickinson

Committee Member

Sally Grapin


Are people’s risk preferences influenced by the preferences of others they interact with or observe? Traditionally, decision preferences were conceptualized as a stable, dispositional trait. However, recent research has demonstrated that there is a degree of malleability in preferences, with social influence having a particularly potent impact. To better understand the extent of social influence on risky decision-making, a mixed-study design was carried out that involved participants making a series of hypothetical monetary choices between smaller-certain and larger-risky rewards. Participants completed three blocks of the risky-choice task: (1) the pre- exposure block where choices were made without any social information, (2) the exposure block where participants observed the choice of a social other after each trial, and (3) the post-exposure block where participants once again made choices without any social information. Moreover, the preferences of the social other during the exposure block were experimentally manipulated to be the choices of either a risk-averse decision-maker or a risk-tolerant decision-maker. Two individual difference measures (social comparison orientation, decisional conflict) were also completed prior to the social exposure to investigate if some people are more susceptible to social influence than others. The results indicated that exposure to social information did impact participants’ risk preferences. Specifically, whereas the two experimental conditions did not differ during the pre-exposure block, participants in the risk-tolerant social condition exhibited a significantly higher preference for risky rewards during the post-exposure block compared to the risk-averse social condition. Post-hoc analyses indicated that this difference between the two experimental conditions was driven by participants in the risk-tolerant condition significantly increasing their risky choices following the social exposure. For participants in the risk-averse social condition, although risky choices were reduced following the exposure block, this change did not reach statistical significance. The individual difference analyses found that those who scored higher for decisional conflict were more likely to adjust their risk preferences following the social exposure. In contrast, there was no significant relationship between general social comparison tendencies and changes in risk preference. These findings support the idea that decision-making preferences are informed by the observed preferences of others and have implications for interventions that target risky behaviors in group settings.

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