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Intuitive numbers guide decisions

Author

Listed:
  • Ellen Peters
  • Paul Slovic
  • Daniel Vastfjall
  • C. K. Mertz

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.

Suggested Citation

  • Ellen Peters & Paul Slovic & Daniel Vastfjall & C. K. Mertz, 2008. "Intuitive numbers guide decisions," Judgment and Decision Making, Society for Judgment and Decision Making, vol. 3(8), pages 619-635, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:jdm:journl:v:3:y:2008:i:8:p:619-635
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    Citations

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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. 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.
    3. 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.
    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.
    5. Antonio Mastrogiorgio & Enrico Petracca, 2014. "Numerals as triggers of System 1 and System 2 in the ‘bat and ball’ problem," Mind & Society: Cognitive Studies in Economics and Social Sciences, Springer;Fondazione Rosselli, vol. 13(1), pages 135-148, June.
    6. Carmen Keller & Christina Kreuzmair & Rebecca Leins-Hess & Michael Siegrist, 2014. "Numeric and graphic risk information processing of high and low numerates in the intuitive and deliberative decision modes: An eye-tracker study," Judgment and Decision Making, Society for Judgment and Decision Making, vol. 9(5), pages 420-432, September.
    7. André Mata, 2016. "Proportion dominance in valuing lives: The role of deliberative thinking," Judgment and Decision Making, Society for Judgment and Decision Making, vol. 11(5), pages 441-448, September.
    8. Kazumi Shimizu & Daisuke Udagawa, 2015. "Is Human Life Worth Peanuts? Risk Attitude Changes in Accordance with Varying Stakes," Working Papers 1518, Waseda University, Faculty of Political Science and Economics.

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