Do remember your high school math teacher? Or, perhaps an elementary school teacher who drilled you on the multiplication tables?
If you have a positive memory of the schooling, and feel reasonably comfortable with numbers, you are probably better at making informed decisions on a plethora of numerological topics including health risks, investment alternatives, calories, etc.
A new study reviews how people with strong numerical literacy — that is, individual who understand numbers better and process information differently — ultimately make more informed decisions.
The article, published in Current Directions in Psychological Science, explores how people who are numerate feel comfortable thinking about numbers and are less influenced by other information, said Ellen Peters, Ph.D., of Ohio State University, the author of the new paper.
For example, in one of Peters’s studies, students were asked to rate undergraduates who received what looked like different test scores.
Numerate people were more likely to see a person who got 74 percent correct and a person who got 26 percent incorrect as equivalent, while people who were less numerate thought people were doing better if their score was given in terms of a percent correct.
Investigators say this type of analysis is necessary for many forms of decision-making.
For example, “A lot of people take medications,” Peters says. Every drug has benefits and potential risks, and those can be presented in different ways. “You can talk about the 10 percent of the population that gets the side effect or the 90 percent that does not.”
For individuals who are less numerate, the method by which the information is presented is critical.
Other research has shown that only less numerate people respond differently to something that has a 1 in 100 chance of happening than something that has a 1 percent chance of happening. The less numerate see more risk in the 1 in 100 chance — even though these numbers are exactly the same.
Researchers believe the findings have implications for how policy makers and others should communicate about the risks of medicines, earthquakes, climate change, and the stock market.
“Numbers are really just abstract symbols, and we have to bring meaning to them somehow,” Peters said. “In general, people who are numerate are better able to bring consistent meaning to numbers and to make better decisions.
“It suggests that courses in math and statistics may be the educational gift that keeps on giving.”