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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Cognitive Supports for Objective Numeracy


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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