‘Snowball effect from improving numeracy’ says new research from Ohio State University

Group studyingNew research has been released, reiterating that numeracy is important for everyone, even those who work or study outside of the fields of maths and science. 

In the study, published by Ohio State University on 12th July 2017, a proportion of psychology students taking a statistics module were given a “values affirmation” task at the start of their course. This involved prioritising a list of values (including relationships with family and friends, spiritual/religious values and science/pursuit of knowledge) according to importance and explaining the reasons for their choices. The students given this task then performed significantly better in a later assessment of their numeracy skills than they did at the start.

The values exercise led to better attitudes from those involved, which in turn improved their numeracy levels. This is consistent with our work with Healthcare Assistants in North West London, which found that attitudinal support alone helped people to improve their numeracy. 

The Ohio study also found that it caused a snowball effect, and the improvements in numeracy (due to the values affirmation) led to other benefits. Those with improved numeracy showed higher financial literacy on a test, and better health behaviours. In contrast, the students in the control group declined in both of these areas. 

The study concluded, “…by the end of the course, the numeracy intervention … enhanced objective numeracy, subjective numeracy, and two decision-related outcomes (financial literacy and health-related outcomes)”. 

Ellen Peters, lead author of the study and professor of psychology at Ohio State University said, “Evidence suggests people who are better at numbers also have a stronger understanding of probability and are less influenced by emotions in the moment. This helps them to better understand risk involved in health decisions, such as smoking.”

This shows that good numeracy is essential for everyone. As Peters said, “We were able to show that numeric ability really matters outside of class. Math isn’t just for people who want a STEM career. It is for all of us.” 

This research reaffirms the message that we work hard to share with partners, employers and individuals every day. Maths is ingrained in our daily lives but it’s our attitudes to maths and numbers that hold the key in unlocking our ability to develop our skills. 


Read the full research

Further reading on the research