Abstract for: Stock-flow failure can be explained by the task design

Stock and flow problems are ubiquitous in nature, ranging from filling water into a tub to the accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere. Research on the “stock and flow failure” suggested, however, that even highly educated students have severe difficulties understanding basic stock and flow problems and achieve solution rates as low as 16%. We present the results of an experiment (N = 277) with participants of different ages (range: 18 to 75) and with different educational and professional backgrounds. Participants were asked to solve various stock and flow problems with varying task formats and semantic embeddings. Results indicate that, independent of the semantic embedding of the tasks, (a) stock and flow failure can be largely attributed to specifics of the task format used previously; and (b) significant reductions in error rates can be achieved by only slight changes in the task format (such as presenting the initial stock of stock and flow dynamics. Approx. 80% of all participants arrived at the correct solution when stock and flow problems were presented in a purely verbal task format. Implications for risk communication are discussed.