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Cognitive Supports for Objective Numeracy

  • Author(s): Yu, Shuyuan;
  • Opfer, John
  • et al.
Abstract

Political ideology leads educated adults–especially the highly numerate–to selectively reason about numbers that support their beliefs (“motivated numeracy”). We investigated whether supports that help children’s quantitative reasoning (number-lines) might also help political partisans. To test this, we asked 429 adults to interpret fictional data, in table or number-line format, about the effect of gun control on crime or the effect of a skin cream on rashes. We found data presented in number-line formats yielded greater accuracy than table formats controlling for numeracy skills (χ2 (1) = 21.88, p < .001), regardless of whether the true interpretation of data affirms, neutral to, or disaffirms participants’ political outlooks. Solving table problems after number-line problems yielded greater accuracy compared to solving table problems first (χ2 (1) = 4.78, p < .005), suggesting number-line practice is educational. Our research has important implications for communicating policy data and improving objectivity.

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