Greater numeracy has been correlated with better health and financial outcomes in past studies, but causal effects in adults are unknown. In a 9-week longitudinal study, undergraduate students, all taking a psychology statistics course, were randomly assigned to a control condition or a values-affirmation manipulation intended to improve numeracy.
By the final week in the course, the numeracy intervention (statistics-course enrollment combined with values affirmation) enhanced objective numeracy, subjective numeracy, and two decision-related outcomes (financial literacy and health-related behaviors). It also showed positive indirect-only effects on financial outcomes and a series of STEM-related outcomes (course grades, intentions to take more math-intensive courses, later math-intensive courses taken based on academic transcripts).
All decision and STEM-related outcome effects were mediated by the changes in objective and/or subjective numeracy and demonstrated similar and robust enhancements. Improvements to abstract numeric reasoning can improve everyday outcomes.