Improving numeracy through values affirmation enhances decision and STEM outcomes

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Abstract

Greater numeracy has been correlated with better health and financial outcomes in past studies, but causal effects in adults are unknown. In a 9-week longitudinal study, undergraduate students, all taking a psychology statistics course, were randomly assigned to a control condition or a values-affirmation manipulation intended to improve numeracy. By the final week in the course, the numeracy intervention (statistics-course enrollment combined with values affirmation) enhanced objective numeracy, subjective numeracy, and two decision-related outcomes (financial literacy and health-related behaviors). It also showed positive indirect-only effects on financial outcomes and a series of STEM-related outcomes (course grades, intentions to take more math-intensive courses, later math-intensive courses taken based on academic transcripts). All decision and STEM-related outcome effects were mediated by the changes in objective and/or subjective numeracy and demonstrated similar and robust enhancements. Improvements to abstract numeric reasoning can improve everyday outcomes.

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Peters, E., Shoots-Reinhard, B., Tompkins, M. K., Schley, D., Meilleur, L., Sinayev, A., … Crocker, J. (2017). Improving numeracy through values affirmation enhances decision and STEM outcomes. PLoS ONE, 12(7). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0180674

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