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27-06-2019 | Original Article | Uitgave 8/2020

Psychological Research 8/2020

Do people really prefer verbal probabilities?

Psychological Research > Uitgave 8/2020
Marie Juanchich, Miroslav Sirota
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When people communicate uncertainty, do they prefer to use words (e.g., “a chance”, “possible”) or numbers (e.g., “20%”, “a 1 in 2 chance”)? To answer this question, past research drew from a range of methodologies, yet failed to provide a clear-cut answer. Building on a review of existing methodologies, theoretical accounts and empirical findings, we tested the hypothesis that the preference for a particular format is driven by the variant of uncertainty that people experience. We expected that epistemic uncertainty would be more often communicated in words, whereas distributional uncertainty would be more often communicated in numbers; for the dispositional uncertainty, we expected that an individual’s disposition would be more often communicated in words, whereas dispositions from the world would be more often communicated numerically. In three experiments (one oral, two written), participants communicated their uncertainty regarding two outcomes per variants of uncertainty: epistemic, dispositional and distributional. Overall, participants communicated their uncertainty more often in words, but this preference depended on the variants of uncertainty. Participants conveyed their epistemic and dispositional uncertainties more often in words and their distributional uncertainty in numbers (Experiments 1 and 2) but this effect was greatly reduced when the precision of uncertainty was held constant (Experiment 3), pointing out the key role of uncertainty vagueness. We have reviewed the implications of our findings for the existing accounts of format preferences.

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