Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Sandra Schneider, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Cynthia Cimino, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Kenneth Malmberg, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Doug Rohrer, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Robert Schlauch, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Anand Kumar, Ph.D.


Advantageous decision making, Cognitive penetrability, Probability weighting, Risk taking, Somatic Marker Hypothesis


When trying to make sense of uncertain situations, we might rely on summary information from a description, or information gathered from our personal experience. There are two approaches that both attempt to explain how we make risky decisions using descriptive or experiential information—the cognitive-based explanation from the description-experience gap, and the emotion-based explanation from the somatic marker hypothesis (SMH). This dissertation brings together these two approaches to better understand how we make risky decisions.

Four options were presented, with options differing in terms of advantageousness and riskiness. How easy or difficult it was to consciously comprehend the reward structure, or cognitive penetrability, was manipulated by displaying single outcomes or multiple, diverse outcomes per trial. Within the description or experience task, participants were randomly assigned to the more or less penetrable version of an all gain or all loss set of options. How often the riskier or advantageous options were chosen served as a measure of risky or advantageous decision making.

Regardless of penetrability, risk preferences were generally but not completely as predicted by the SMH. Instead, the primary effect of cognitive penetrability was on advantageous decision making. Furthermore, description was found to be more cognitively penetrable than experience. Overall, the results suggest that clarification is needed regarding how somatic markers are formed in the loss versus gain domain, and future research should consider the difference in penetrability between description and experience when trying to explain preferences between the two decisions.