Numerical magnitude information, such as 32 mpg, is often specified as a number in the context of a unit of measurement for a specific attribute, whereas verbal magnitude information such as high mileage, is usually a generic descriptor that may apply to several attributes. Because of its specificity, numerical information may be easier to distinguish from other information and hence, easier to encode and retrieve than is verbal information. However, numerical labels often lack inherent meaning, whereas verbal information conveys meaning more readily. Based on this reasoning, we generate and test hypotheses about how numerical and verbal information is processed and remembered following learning, judgment, and choice tasks. Across several studies, numerical information was found to require less processing time, recognized faster and more accurately, and recalled more exactly, than verbal information for a learning task. However, some of these advantages for numerical over verbal information were found to persist following a judgment task or a choice task. Additional studies demonstrate that these processing and memory differences between numerical and verbal information can be reduced or eliminated by (a) presenting all information along an attribute either verbally or numerically so that both verbal and numerical information are equated on attribute specificity, and (b) presenting numerical information in the form of numbers on a rating scale so that it is similar to verbal information in terms of conveying meaning. The findings suggest that the key to processing and memory differences between different types of magnitude information may lie in how specifically the magnitude information is linked to an attribute and also how readily it conveys meaning in an information processing context.
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