Hilary Barth and Andrea Patalano, associate professors of psychology, recently co-authored a paper in Psychonomic Bulletin and Review along with two former Psychology Department undergraduates, Laura Machlin and Jason Saltiel.
When people make “risky decisions” like choosing between two gambles with different values and different probabilities of success, their choices appear to be based on distorted versions of both the values and probabilities. Although there are many theories attempting to explain the distortion, we don’t know exactly why it happens. This study investigated whether some of this distortion comes from people’s numerical abilities (specifically, verbal numeracy and a measure of numerical approximation: the ability to rapidly discriminate sets of different numbers of elements).
“We did not find evidence for links to numerical approximation, but we found that individual differences in value and probability distortions were clearly related to numeracy skills (the higher a person’s numeracy score, the less distortion),” Barth explained.