Can membership-functions capture the directionality of verbal probabilities?


Verbal probabilities are a common mean for communicating risk and uncertainties in many decision-making settings (e.g., finance, medicine, military). They are considered directional because they elicit a focus on either the outcome occurrence (e.g., there is a chance) or on its non-occurrence (e.g., it is unlikely). According to a quantitative perspective, directionality is dependent on the vague probabilistic meaning conveyed by verbal probabilities—e.g., p(outcome) > .50 = > focus on outcome occurrence. In contrast a more qualitative perspective suggests that directionality depends on contextual factors. The present study tested whether the directionality of verbal probabilities was determined by their vague probabilistic meaning, by contextually manipulated variables (i.e., representativeness and base rate), or by a combination of both. Participants provided their own expressions to describe the guilt of a suspect and then assessed the vague probabilistic meaning and directionality associated with those expressions. Results showed that directionality was mainly determined by the vague probabilistic meaning but also by the base rate of guilt. Although attention focus on the occurrence or the non-occurrence of the target outcome is dependent on vague probabilistic meaning, it cannot be fully accounted for by it.

In Thinking & Reasoning, 19, 1-17