Ellen Peters, Ohio State University

Innumeracy in the lab and in the wild: A focus on subjective numeracy

Ellen Peters, a psychology professor at the Ohio State University who received her undergraduate degrees at the University of Pennsylvania, has returned to Penn this spring as a visiting scholar at APPC. Peters, who directs the Decision Sciences Collaborative at Ohio State, has conducted research into how numeracy, the ability to understand and use numbers, influences decision making and how that ultimately affects various outcomes in people’s lives. Peters said she plans to work on understanding how numeracy affects the way people make decisions in domains where disagreement and false beliefs exist — for instance, whether or not to use a Zika vaccine.

Abstract: Innumeracy is rampant in the United States and has been linked with worse decision-making skills and worse outcomes in health and finances. However, objective numeracy (being good at math) is not the only important factor. Beliefs in one’s numeric abilities (i.e., subjective numeracy) should have independent effects on behavioral persistence and engagement with numeric information, with subsequent effects on outcomes, but little research exists.

In this talk, we’ll discuss what past studies have revealed about the importance of being objectively numerate. I’ll then present the results of recent ongoing studies concerning the additional importance of subjective numeracy. Objective and subjective numeracy capture distinct psychological constructs that support different aspects of judgment and decision processes. We can measure them or manipulate them and it appears that both numeracies have effects on decision outcomes and processes.