What Very Small Numbers Mean

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This article presents a theoretical and experimental framework for assessing the biases associated with the interpretation of numbers. This framework consists of having participants convert between different representations of quantities. These representations should include both variations in numerical labels that symbolize quantities and variations in displays in which quantity is inherent. Five experiments assessed how people convert between relative frequencies, decimals, and displays of dots that denote very low proportions (i.e., proportions below 1%). The participants demonstrated perceptual, response, and numerical transformation biases. Furthermore, the data suggest that relative frequencies and decimals are associated with different abstract representations of amount.

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