The Causal Impact of Objective Numeracy on Judgments: Improving Numeracy via Symbolic and Non-Symbolic Approximate Arithmetic Training Yields More Consistent Risk Judgments


  • Dana L. Chesney
  • Brittany Shoots-Reinhard
  • Ellen Peters


Park and Brannon (2013, found that practicing non-symbolic approximate arithmetic increased performance on an objective numeracy task, specifically symbolic arithmetic. Manipulating objective numeracy would be useful for many researchers, particularly those who wish to investigate causal effects of objective numeracy on performance. Objective numeracy has been linked to performance in multiple areas, such as judgment-and-decision-making (JDM) competence, but most existing studies are correlational. Here, we expanded upon Park and Brannon’s method to experimentally manipulate objective numeracy and we investigated whether numeracy’s link with JDM performance was causal. Experimental participants drawn from a diverse internet sample trained on approximate-arithmetic tasks whereas active control participants trained on a spatial working-memory task. Numeracy training followed a 2 × 2 design: Experimental participants quickly estimated the sum of OR difference between presented numeric stimuli, using symbolic numbers (i.e., Arabic numbers) OR non-symbolic numeric stimuli (i.e., dot arrays). We partially replicated Park and Brannon’s findings: The numeracy training improved objective-numeracy performance more than control training, but this improvement was evidenced by performance on the Objective Numeracy Scale, not the symbolic arithmetic task. Subsequently, we found that experimental participants also perceived risks more consistently than active control participants, and this risk-consistency benefit was mediated by objective numeracy. These results provide the first known experimental evidence of a causal link between objective numeracy and the consistency of risk judgments.