Strategy Selection in Risky Choice: The Impact of Numeracy, Affect, and Cross-Cultural Differences


Correspondence to: Thorsten Pachur, Department of Psychology, University of Basel, Missionsstrasse 60/62, 4055 Basel, Switzerland. E-mail:


Real-world decisions often involve options with outcomes that are uncertain and trigger strong affect (e.g., side effects of a drug). Previous work suggests that when choosing among affect-rich risky prospects, people are rather insensitive to probability information, potentially compromising decision quality. We modeled the strategies of less and more numerate participants in the United States and in Germany when choosing between affect-rich prospects and between monetarily equivalent affect-poor prospects. Using large probabilistic national samples (n = 1047 from the United States and Germany), Study 1 showed that compared with more numerate participants, less numerate participants chose the normatively better option (i.e., the one with the higher expected value) less often, guessed more often, and relied more on a simple risk-minimizing strategy. U.S. participants—although less numerate—selected the normatively better option more frequently and were more consistent across affect-rich and affect-poor problems than the German participants. Using a targeted quota sample (n = 118 from Germany), Study 2 indicated that although both more and less numerate participants paid less attention to probability information in affect-rich than in affect-poor problems, the two numeracy groups relied on different outcome-based heuristics: More numerate participants often followed the minimax heuristic, and less numerate participants the affect heuristic. The observed strategy differences suggest that attempts to improve decision-making need to take into account individual differences in numeracy as well as cultural-specific experiences in making trade-offs. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.