WTF Fun Fact 13568 – Smoking Math

Smoking math? No, it’s not a typo. Researchers at Ohio State University found a surprising correlation during a research study in 2020. Smokers with better math skills are more inclined to quit smoking.

Crunching the Numbers on Smoking Math

To kick things off, researchers gauged the mathematical abilities of 696 adult smokers using a standardized test. After this assessment, participants encountered eight diverse cigarette warning labels, each paired with risk statistics. For instance, one of the statistics presented was, “75.4 percent of smokers will die before the age of 85, compared to 53.7 percent of non-smokers.”

Brittany Shoots-Reinhard, the study’s lead author, shared a crucial observation: individuals with heightened math skills retained more of the risk statistics. This increased retention directly influenced their perception of smoking dangers and their intentions to quit.

Math, Memory, and Momentum

While all participants saw the same warning labels, memory retention varied. High-emotion labels, like images of diseased lungs, seemed less memorable initially compared to low-emotion ones, such as cartoon gravestones.

However, a follow-up after six weeks revealed the high-emotion warnings stayed more vivid in participants’ minds over time.

The Role of Numeracy in Smoking Math

A pivotal revelation from the data was the role of numeracy. Smokers with higher math abilities remembered smoking-related risks better, which in turn elevated their intentions to quit.

Shoots-Reinhard emphasized the need to re-evaluate how we present risk data to smokers, especially those who may struggle with understanding numerical information. Simplified communication strategies, like infographics, might bridge the comprehension gap for the less numerate.

The Road Ahead

This research shines a spotlight on the importance of effective risk communication. As Shoots-Reinhard asserts, understanding risk equips smokers to make informed decisions. The ultimate aim? To empower more smokers with the knowledge and resolve to quit.

In a nutshell, Ohio State University’s research reveals a profound insight: the road to quitting smoking intertwines not just with understanding health risks but also with one’s ability to comprehend numbers. For many smokers, the motivation to quit might well be a matter of math.

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Source: “Smokers good at math are more likely to want to quit” — Science Daily

WTF Fun Fact 12448 – Killer Vending Machines

In the United States, your chances of dying from a shark attack are roughly 1 in 250 million, statistically speaking. In contrast, your risk of dying from a vending machine-related incident is approximately 1 in 112 million. So a vending machine is nearly twice as lethal as a shark.

No, it’s not because the snacks you find in vending machines are high-calorie pseudo-food. We mean vending machines themselves can kill. Of course, your chance of encountering either may have gone down during the pandemic, but statistically speaking, you’re more likely to be killed by a vending machine than a great, big, toothy, man-eating shark.

Shark attacks make the news. Sharks seem dangerous. We’re afraid of sharks. They’ve made movies about how scary sharks are. They had to dedicate a whole week to sharks to show off both their deadliness and majesty. You just can’t say the same thing about vending machines. So sharks live in our imagination as something deadly.

Vending machines, on the other hand, are our friends. If the machines take over, we want them to be the ones that dispense snacks, right?

Ok, this isn’t really about ways you’re likely to die. But think about it – don’t we engage in this reasoning quite a lot? We love it. We throw it around all the time. “I can do X because Y is more dangerous.” That’s actually some deeply faulted reasoning since it ignored just HOW deadly X is (which, in this case, is vending machines).

Vending machines aren’t deadly at all. But they sure sound that way when you compare them to sharks.

And sharks? They get our attention as something deadly, even though, statistically, they aren’t. Especially if you live in, say, Indiana.

Now, we’re not going to insult you by spelling out the obvious social implications here, but let’s just say that next time you want to throw around statistics to prove a point, you might want to make sure they’re helpful. – WTF fun facts

Source: “How Are Sharks Less Dangerous than Vending Machines? An Exercise in Conditional Risk” — Freakonomics