Numerical Meanings of Probabilistic Expressions
Mosteller, Frederick
Youtz, Cleo
language
language study
perceptions
These data were collected to obtain a clearer understanding of the quantitative meanings that people perceive in common words used to describe probabilistic outcomes. For example, in everyday language, people apply the expressions "always" and "certain" to events that occur in fewer than 100 percent of their opportunities. In this study, science writers were surveyed and asked to quantify, in a percentage term, their understanding of each of 52 expressions. They were also asked to indicate how they thought their readers would quantify each term, giving both an upper and lower limit they thought their readers would set for each expression. One group of expressions included the word "probability", and ranged from "very high probability" to "very low probability". Another used various forms of the word "probable", such as "very probable" and "improbable". Other expressions were centered around the word "chance": "better than even chance" to "less than even chance". The survey also included words like "always", "often", "frequently", "never", and "sometimes". Also tested were expressions with regularly used modifiers such as "very", or negation (not, un-, im-, in-), so that the effect of such modifiers could be evaluated. The sample of respondents was split to permit assessment of the effects of order of presentation: half received a form that ranked the expressions within 15 groups from high probability to low, while the other half received a form ordering the expressions from low probability to high.
6046
http://doi.org/10.3886/ICPSR06046.v1
01-12-2006
survey data
self-enumerated questionnaires
United States
1987