Verbal probability expressions and framing effects
Garberson, Lisa Ann
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Natural language quantifiers consist of three distinct, but related, categories of linguistic expressions, which are statements of quantity, frequency, and probability. Researchers have established that statements of quantity and probability can be either positive or negative, each of which invokes a different focus. Positive quantifiers include some, several, and a few, and negative quantifiers include not many, few, and hardly any. Positive probability words include possible, likely, and certain, and negative probability words include impossible, unlikely, and uncertain. The meaning of the quantifiers and probability words is dependent upon the communicative context in which they are used. The question addressed in the study was whether statements of quantity influence the choice of verbal probability word by creating a positive or negative frame. In other words, does quantifier polarity influence how the same relative frequencies (in the form of quantity expressions) are interpreted by focusing on different aspects of the situation being described by the frequencies? The results did not indicate strong framing effects, but did indicate a split between the influence of polarity and focus when negative quantifiers focused on positive tests. This divergence in responses was found with numerical probabilities as well as verbal probability words. The study has implications for those who use natural language quantifiers in survey items, especially when communicating uncertainty using verbal probability words.