The Psychology of Numbers

Despite the amount of publications and research about the psychology of numbers, it is easy to see that, like everything else, this topic might be relative and very difficult to “generalise”.

By relative I mean: it depends on the manner in which each person processes numbers. It might even depend on how each person feels on the day.

It is uncommon for someone to sit back and think through the “way” they understand numbers. I did this effort and aside from a headache I realised I get numbers in terms of the “distances” between them. How close is 6 to 10 as opposed to 5 to 10 or 0.859 to 10?, for instance.

I draw the distances between figures to then translate the result I am after. Typically, the larger the distance, the bigger the problem… For illustrative purposes, it is very much like adding and subtracting vectors. I am grateful for this as pricing ploys don’t “work” so well on me: when I see £1.99 I associate it with £2 and think “clearly £0.99 doesn’t make much of a difference to them”. Having said this, the look of the product gets me every time, so no loss to the seller there. At least it isn’t the “price’s look” that gets me…

Perhaps it is through my academic and professional experience that I have come to immediately understand numbers by the value they actually represent (always in comparison to a budget allocation or my own income…).

It is my belief that we all process numbers differently and that, by making an effort to understand each other’s “methodology” with numbers, communication becomes that much easier. Especially when it comes to teaching or analysing figures in a group.

Now that you know I work in Finance, how do you understand numbers?

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6 thoughts on “The Psychology of Numbers

  1. I will quote Mark Twain “Figures often beguile me, particularly when I have the arranging of them myself;”. However I realized early on, that math was the key to music, sports, and life in general, so as decided accommodations had to be made. That said I enjoyed your perspective.

    • Hey, funny you just mentionned one of my life’s influences :)…

      Yes, numbers deserve to be taught on a “custom” basis… To each person the perspective that most suits them…

      Cheers, Alex

  2. I don’t work in finance. I work with words, and my understanding of numbers is a little troubling sometimes. When I was very young I thought of them as having distinct personalities, as if they truly were characters. Discovering they could interact complicated their story so much I let their characters go, but I still sometimes feel those early personalities lurking like ghosts. I’m sitting on the L or staring at an advertisement with a phone number, and there they are again, watching me, waiting for me to notice they’ve been watching all along. I’m not sure it’s healthy.

    • Quite the opposite! I woud have thought maths would become so interesting if the numbers’ interactions could be quickly interpreted. It’s such an interesting approach I might give it a go. Thank you so much for sharing!

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