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

See all articles by Ellen Peters

Ellen Peters

Ohio State University - Psychology Department; Decision Research; University of Oregon

Paul Slovic

Decision Research; University of Oregon - Department of Psychology

Daniel Västfjäll

Göteborg University

C. K. Mertz

Decision Research

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.

Keywords: decision making, numerical cognition, numeracy, proportional reasoning, individual differences

JEL Classification: D81, D90

Suggested Citation

Peters, Ellen and Slovic, Paul and Västfjäll, Daniel and Mertz, C. K., Intuitive Numbers Guide Decisions. Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 3, pp. 619-635, December 2008. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1321907

Ellen Peters (Contact Author)

Ohio State University - Psychology Department ( email )

Blankenship Hall-2010
901 Woody Hayes Drive
Columbus, OH OH 43210
United States

Decision Research ( email )

1201 Oak Street, Suite 200
Eugene, OR 97401
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.decisionresearch.org

University of Oregon ( email )

1280 University of Oregon
Eugene, OR 97403
United States

Paul Slovic

Decision Research ( email )

1201 Oak Street, Suite 200
Eugene, OR 97401
United States
541-485-2400 (Phone)
541-485-2403 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.decisionresearch.org

University of Oregon - Department of Psychology ( email )

Eugene, OR 97403
United States
541-485-2400 (Phone)

Daniel Västfjäll

Göteborg University ( email )

Viktoriagatan 30
Göteborg, 405 30
Sweden

C. K. Mertz

Decision Research ( email )

1201 Oak Street, Suite 200
Eugene, OR 97401
United States

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