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Intuitive numbers guide decisions

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Author Info

  • Ellen Peters
  • Paul Slovic
  • Daniel Vastfjall
  • C. K. Mertz
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    Abstract

    Measuring reaction times to number comparisons is thought to reveal a processing stage in elementary numerical cognition linked to internal, imprecise representations of number magnitudes. These intuitive representations of the mental number line have been demonstrated across species and human development but have been little explored in decision making. This paper develops and tests hypotheses about the influence of such evolutionarily ancient, intuitive numbers on human decisions. We demonstrate that individuals with more precise mental-number-line representations are higher in numeracy (number skills) consistent with previous research with children. Individuals with more precise representations (compared to those with less precise representations) also were more likely to choose larger, later amounts over smaller, immediate amounts, particularly with a larger proportional difference between the two monetary outcomes. In addition, they were more likely to choose an option with a larger proportional but smaller absolute difference compared to those with less precise representations. These results are consistent with intuitive number representations underlying : a) perceived differences between numbers, b) the extent to which proportional differences are weighed in decisions, and, ultimately, c) the valuation of decision options. Human decision processes involving numbers important to health and financial matters may be rooted in elementary, biological processes shared with other species.

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    File URL: http://journal.sjdm.org/8827/jdm8827.pdf
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    Bibliographic Info

    Article provided by Society for Judgment and Decision Making in its journal Judgment and Decision Making.

    Volume (Year): 3 (2008)
    Issue (Month): 8 (December)
    Pages: 619-635

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    Handle: RePEc:jdm:journl:v:3:y:2008:i:8:p:619-635

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    Related research

    Keywords: decision making; numerical cognition; numeracy; proportional reasoning; individual differences.;

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    Cited by:
    1. John R. Doyle, 2013. "Survey of time preference, delay discounting models," Judgment and Decision Making, Society for Judgment and Decision Making, vol. 8(2), pages 116-135, March.
    2. Luke F. Rinne & Michele M. M. Mazzocco, 2013. "Inferring uncertainty from interval estimates: Effects of alpha level and numeracy," Judgment and Decision Making, Society for Judgment and Decision Making, vol. 8(3), pages 330-344, May.
    3. Stephan Dickert & Janet Kleber & Ellen Peters & Paul Slovic, 2011. "Numeracy as a precursor to pro-social behavior: The impact of numeracy and presentation format on the cognitive mechanisms underlying donation decisions," Judgment and Decision Making, Society for Judgment and Decision Making, vol. 6(7), pages 638-650, October.
    4. Asmus Leth Olsen, 2013. "Leftmost-digit-bias in an enumerated public sector? An experiment on citizens' judgment of performance information," Judgment and Decision Making, Society for Judgment and Decision Making, vol. 8(3), pages 365-371, May.

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