Cognitive Processing

, Volume 19, Issue 3, pp 297–315 | Cite as

Risk approximation in decision making: approximative numeric abilities predict advantageous decisions under objective risk

  • Silke M. Mueller
  • Johannes Schiebener
  • Margarete Delazer
  • Matthias Brand
Research Report


Many decision situations in everyday life involve mathematical considerations. In decisions under objective risk, i.e., when explicit numeric information is available, executive functions and abilities to handle exact numbers and ratios are predictors of objectively advantageous choices. Although still debated, exact numeric abilities, e.g., normative calculation skills, are assumed to be related to approximate number processing skills. The current study investigates the effects of approximative numeric abilities on decision making under objective risk. Participants (N = 153) performed a paradigm measuring number-comparison, quantity-estimation, risk-estimation, and decision-making skills on the basis of rapid dot comparisons. Additionally, a risky decision-making task with exact numeric information was administered, as well as tasks measuring executive functions and exact numeric abilities, e.g., mental calculation and ratio processing skills, were conducted. Approximative numeric abilities significantly predicted advantageous decision making, even beyond the effects of executive functions and exact numeric skills. Especially being able to make accurate risk estimations seemed to contribute to superior choices. We recommend approximation skills and approximate number processing to be subject of future investigations on decision making under risk.


Decision making Approximate number system Risk estimation Ratio processing Numeracy 



We like to especially thank Christina Gallinger for her help with data acquisition.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical standard

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Human and animal rights

This article does not contain any studies with animals performed by any of the authors.


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Copyright information

© Marta Olivetti Belardinelli and Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Silke M. Mueller
    • 1
  • Johannes Schiebener
    • 1
  • Margarete Delazer
    • 2
  • Matthias Brand
    • 1
    • 3
  1. 1.General Psychology: Cognition and Center for Behavioral Addiction Research (CeBAR)University of Duisburg-EssenDuisburgGermany
  2. 2.Clinical Department of NeurologyInnsbruck Medical UniversityInnsbruckAustria
  3. 3.Erwin L. Hahn Institute for Magnetic Resonance ImagingEssenGermany

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