3.9: Framing Effects
Information is everywhere and its presentation—such as how and when items are presented—can impact our perceptions and decisions surrounding the info. This broad concept umbrellas framing effects—influences that occur due to the way information is framed in its appearance, whether it’s purely the order or the specific wording of a message. Let’s take a look at numerous ways in which two versions of something can objectively say the same thing, yet we respond in different ways based on the scenario’s formulation and on our norms and habits.
Not all frames are created equally. Levin and colleagues described three different kinds of framing when positive and negative terms are included in the information (Levin, Schneider, and Gaeth, 1998). One is called risky-choice framing and was introduced in original research by Tversky and Kahneman (1981). They highlighted how individuals might have a different preference in a different framing of the same problem. In this case, university students were presented with a particular scenario. Half (n=152) were given the first two options below that involved saving lives (i.e., positive gains and risk-aversion) and the other half (n=155) were given the latter two choices that involved losing lives (i.e., negative losses and risk-taking).
Adapted from (Tversky & Kahneman, 1981):
If Program A is adopted, 200 people will be saved.
If Program B is adopted, there is 1/3 probability that 600 people will be saved, and 2/3 probability that no people will be saved.
If Program C is adopted 400 people will die.
If Program D is adopted there is 1/3 probability that nobody will die, and 2/3 probability that 600 people will die.
The majority (72%) in Group 1 chose Program A—a prospect of certainty over risk, even when the expected values are equal. In the second group, the majority (78%) chose Program D. The certain death was likely less acceptable, so students chose to take a risk, again even though the expected values are essentially identical.
A second type of valence framing is called attribute framing. In this case, a single attribute within a given context is the subject of manipulation. For example, in the grocery store, two characters chose the charging product associated with a positive frame over the negative one. They more likely interpreted the positive message as a more appealing item than one negatively marketed, even though they possess an identical amount of potential effectiveness. Such examples have been shown across other domains, including experts in healthcare (McNeil, Pauker, Sox, & Tversky, 1982).
A third type of valence framing—goal framing—refers to focusing on the goal of obtaining either a positive consequence or gain (positive frame) or avoiding the negative consequence or loss (negative frame). This type of effect is common in studies of persuasive communication, where the goal is to understand which frame will have the greater impact on achieving the same end result. For example, in a study on credit card use, customers were found to be more receptive to messaging that stressed losses from using a credit card (meaing they would pay a surcharge if they used the card) compared to messaging that described gains, like receiving a discount, from using it (Ganzach & Karsahi, 1995).
Another more generic type is called spin framing—framing effects that involve varying the content of what is presented. Often times, spin framing highlights a company’s competitive edge, mission, or political agenda (Lakoff, 2004). One example in the video highlighted a situation that is often presented across different media outlets: The same object or group of people may be labeled with different connotations. Such messaging influences how people react and make decisions around words that signify certain aspects over others. Given that negative terminology may attract more attention and have much deeper and longer-lasting psychological and neurological impacts compared to positive wording, people tend to harbor final impressions that allow the bad to outweigh the good (Baumeister et al., 2001; LeDoux, Romanski, & Xagoraris, 1989). In addition, when people were given negative information rather than positive information, they generally requested less information to confidently and quickly make their decision (Yzerbyt & Lyons, 1991).
We also think about actions and events within a temporal frame—a perspective of something occurring within a certain time span, like the past, the present moment, or future, as well as distance, such as near and far (Fujita, Henderson, Eng, Trope, & Liberman, 2006). According to Trope, Liberman, and colleagues, individuals’ judgments and decisions about a particular event can change depending on its temporal frame.
The last category of framing effects—order effects—are the purest type, meaning that the information presented is completely identical and only the order of presentation changes. One type is the primacy effect—an order effect whereby information that’s presented first has more impact on judgment than information arranged later. Examples of this effect include: someone who wants to go first so that their performance is judged more favorably than those who follow and advertisers who pay to make sure that their product is the first item that people see. In contrast, sometimes, the last thing presented comes to mind more easily. This case refers the recency effect—another type of order effect whereby information that’s presented later has more impact than information given earlier. If you were conflicted about whether to go last or first, this may be why. Someone may be swayed by the very last performance instead of the first!