Exposure to Unsolvable Anagrams Impairs Performance on the Iowa Gambling Task

Recent research indicates that external manipulations, such as stress or mood induction, can affect decision-making abilities. In the current study, we investigated whether the exposure to an unsolvable task affected subsequent performance on the Iowa Gambling Task. Participants were randomly assigned to a condition in which they were exposed to unsolvable anagrams (n = 20), or a condition in which they worked on solvable anagrams (n = 22). Afterwards, all participants played the Iowa Gambling Task, a prominent task that measures decision making under uncertain conditions with no explicit rules for gains and losses. In this task, it is essential to process feedback from previous decisions. The results demonstrated that participants who worked on unsolvable anagrams made more disadvantageous decisions on the Iowa Gambling Task than the other participants. In addition, a significant gender effect was observed: Males who worked on unsolvable anagrams made a more disadvantageous decisions than the other male participants. Females who worked on unsolvable anagrams also made more disadvantageous decision than the other female participants, but differences were small and not significant. We conclude that the exposure to unsolvable anagrams induced the experience of uncontrollability which can elicit stress and learned helplessness. Stress and learned helplessness might have reduced the ability to learn from the given feedback, particularly in male participants. We assume that in real life, uncontrollable challenges that last longer than a single experimental manipulation can affect decision making severely, at least in males.


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