Dissertations and Theses

Date of Award


Document Type




First Advisor

Teresa Lopez-Castro

Second Advisor

Jeffrey Birk

Third Advisor

Robert Melara


Interoceptive Awareness, Decision-Making, Risk


In complex situations where there is an unclear link between the available options and an advantageous outcome, visceral signals of arousal play a role in decision-making. Perception of the body’s various visceral signals is called interoceptive awareness (IA). Exposure to stressful events can impede the production and perception of these signals, leading to a potentially impaired perception of risk and impeded decision-making. However, there is a paucity of research exploring the impact of life event stress on IA, or how both of these factors may influence the dynamic process of decision-making during risk. To address this gap the current study investigated how life event stress may impact the assessment of risk in decision-making by impairing the perception of visceral signals of arousal. A community sample of 86 subjects were recruited and given the Life Experiences Survey (LES) to assess stress from life events, the Mental Tracking Method (MTM) to determine IA, the Iowa Gambling Task (IGT) to assess decision-making in situations involving risk, and skin conductance levels (SCL) measured prior to each trial of the IGT as a visceral signal of arousal. Results indicated that IA was negatively correlated with avoidance of risk on the IGT. Breaking the 100 trials IGT into 5 blocks of 20, regression analyses showed that different factors of interest each predicted safe choosing at different times. Less life event stress, as indicated by higher LES scores, predicted more safe choosing for the first block of trials. Increased IA scores predicted less safe choosing on the second and third blocks. Elevated SCL prior to risky choices compared to safe choices predicted safe choosing for blocks 3, 4, and 5. Findings suggest a temporally dynamic process of factors influencing risk assessment. Results also highlight the limitations of the MTM as an indicator of interoception. Future research points toward more holistic measures for both IA and life event stress to better understand their dynamic influence on decision-making during risk.

Available for download on Wednesday, December 16, 2020