Verbal probabilities: An alternative approach
Previous studies of verbal probabilities have tried to place expressions like a chance, possible, and certain on 0–1 numerical probability scales. We ask instead, out of a range of outcomes, which outcome a verbal probability suggests. When, for instance, a sample of laptop batteries lasts from 1.5 to 3.5 hours, what is a certain and what is a possible duration? Experiment 1 showed that speakers associate certain with low values and possible with (unlikely) high or maximal values. In Experiment 2, this methodology was applied to several positive and negative verbal probability phrases, showing a preference for high rather than low or middle values in a distribution. Experiment 3 showed that such maxima are not universally described by large numbers. For instance, maximum speed is often described in terms of a small number of time units. What can (possibly) happen is accordingly sometimes described with very low and sometimes with very high values, depending upon focus of interest. Finally, participants in Experiment 4 were given the role of hearers rather than speakers and were asked to infer outcome ranges from verbal probabilities. Hearers appeared to be partly aware of speakers' tendencies to describe outcomes at the top of the range.
Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 2014, 67 (1), 124-146