At Home on the Range? Lay Interpretations of Numerical Uncertainty Ranges

Nathan F. Dieckmann, Ellen Peters, Robin Gregory

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


Numerical uncertainty ranges are often used to convey the precision of a forecast. In three studies, we examined how users perceive the distribution underlying numerical ranges and test specific hypotheses about the display characteristics that affect these perceptions. We discuss five primary conclusions from these studies: (1) substantial variation exists in how people perceive the distribution underlying numerical ranges; (2) distributional perceptions appear similar whether the uncertain variable is a probability or an outcome; (3) the variation in distributional perceptions is due in part to individual differences in numeracy, with more numerate individuals more likely to perceive the distribution as roughly normal; (4) the variation is also due in part to the presence versus absence of common cues used to convey the correct interpretation (e.g., including a best estimate increases perceptions that the distribution is roughly normal); and (5) simple graphical representations can decrease the variance in distributional perceptions. These results point toward significant opportunities to improve uncertainty communication in climate change and other domains.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1281-1295
Number of pages15
JournalRisk Analysis
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1 2015


  • Ambiguity
  • Climate change
  • Numeracy
  • Risk communication
  • Uncertainty

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Safety, Risk, Reliability and Quality
  • Physiology (medical)


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