Experts say that the brain is not good at dealing with large numbers, and is better at thinking about large numbers in a comparative way than evaluating numbers directly in absolute terms. (Picture taken from Freepik)
[Health Channel/Comprehensive Report]The global death toll from Wuhan pneumonia (new coronavirus disease, COVID-19) has exceeded 6 million and continues to rise. But humans may not really understand the meaning of “6 million”. Experts say that the brain is not good at dealing with large numbers. Compared with evaluating numbers directly with absolute values, the brain is better at thinking about large numbers in a comparative way.
Elizabeth Y. Toomarian, director of the Brainwave Learning Center at Stanford University, and her colleagues wrote a book for foreign media “The conversation” said that humans, fish, birds, monkeys and many other animals show basic numerical ability shortly after birth, and the human brain can intuitively recognize numbers less than 3 or 4. As the number increases, people must Start counting, and if the number keeps getting bigger, the number will change from an intuitive understanding to an abstract number concept.
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Tumarian points out that any number greater than 5 cannot be recognized intuitively and quickly, for example: people make incorrect assessments of numbers when shopping, and a study asked people to estimate the total price in their shopping carts. The results found that people tend to underestimate the total price, and as the amount gets bigger, the difference gets bigger; people also misunderstand the difference between numbers, like the difference between 2 and 5, than the difference between 62 and 65 Obviously, in fact, it is obviously a difference of 3.
There are many more examples of misperceptions about numbers, Tumarian said. People often underestimate very large numbers and overestimate relatively small ones. The study found that even undergraduates of geology and biology often underestimate the time between the first life on Earth and the emergence of dinosaurs (billions of years); and overestimate the time dinosaurs lived on Earth (millions of years). year).
Tumarian pointed out that in this epidemic, there are many numbers that are difficult for the brain to understand. Whether it is the accuracy rate of PCR test, the accuracy rate of quick screening, the number of global cases, the number of deaths, etc., they are far beyond what the brain can intuitively understand. The numbers that are processed, and therefore how the future public health system presents these numbers, so that the numbers are easier to understand by the brain is very important.