Intuitive Numbers Guide Decisions
Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 3, pp. 619-635, December 2008
17 Pages Posted: 5 Jan 2009 Last revised: 6 Jan 2009
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.
Keywords: decision making, numerical cognition, numeracy, proportional reasoning, individual differences
JEL Classification: D81, D90
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