How people interpret probability through words

Jul 6, 2018

In the early 1990s, the CIA published internal survey results for how people within the organization interpreted probabilistic words such as “probable” and “little chance”. Participants were asked to attach a probability percentage to the words. Andrew Mauboussin and Michael J. Mauboussinran ran a public survey more recently to see how people interpret the words now.

The main point, like in the CIA poll, was that words matter. Some words like “usually” and “probably” are vague, whereas “always” and “never” are more certain.

I wonder what results would look like if instead of showing a word and asking probability, you flipped it around. Show probability and then ask people for a word to describe. I’d like to see that spectrum.

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