What Is Framing Psychology By Definition

By Joy Youell

Updated November 20, 2019

Reviewer Avia James

We often talk about seeing circumstances as a glass half full or half empty. Seeing reality as a "glass half full" means you're viewing it from the frame of an optimist. Seeing reality as a "glass half empty" means you're coming from a negative frame of reality.

At its purest, framing is the way that you view the world. This is called cognitive bias, which essentially means that you react differently to information based on whether it is presented to you in a positive or negative way. No matter which way you see things, it directly impacts the decisions that you make.

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What Is the Framing Effect?

We all see objects and concepts through a bias. Biases can make us take concepts and other points of view and twist them in a way that suits our worldview. There are many ways that people can manipulate our biases. One of those ways is known as the framing effect. In this post, we will look at the framing effect and discuss what it means.

The Framing Effect in Your Life

The framing effect is when someone reacts to a choice or concept based on how it is framed or presented to them. Let's say that someone wants to perform a surgery on you, and they say that you have a 90 percent chance of survival. That sounds pretty good, right? If it was framed differently, by saying you have a 10 percent chance of death, your reaction would probably be different. This is because of cognitive bias. We are likely to feel good about something if it is presented to us in a positive way or in a way that can benefit us, but we may start to worry if the same thing is presented to us with a negative frame. A 90 percent survival rate and a 10 percent chance of death are the same things, but our mind tends to dislike something if it is presented negatively. Understanding the framing effect can help you discern how people are communicating with you and why you may be reacting in a certain way.

The History of the Framing Effect

In 1979, studies confirmed the legitimacy of the framing effect. Two people, Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahnemann, were trying to show that framing can influence the choices we make. In advertising a product, the product needs to be presented in a positive way. If someone is selling a product for you that is made with 80 percent natural ingredients, it's worth it to mention that it's made almost entirely with all-natural ingredients instead of saying that 20 percent is artificial. This study gave birth to the concept of prospect theory. The idea of prospect theory is that people look at decisions by measuring gains and losses. Someone is going to avoid your product if the "loss" is presented and vice versa. If someone is going to gain anything out of it, they will more than likely buy your product. If you're selling a product that kills 99 percent of germs, framing it so that it says that 1 percent of germs will survive may turn people off.


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The Significance of the Framing Effect

When it comes to decisions, the framing effect can play a significant role. If you are trying to convince someone to do something, you need to do it in a way that's framed well. Millions of dollars are spent every year trying to find the best-fitting frame in marketing. There are countless ways you can frame something. Here are a few examples:

Emotional Appeals

A product can be framed in a way that makes you feel emotional. A charity for an animal shelter may make you feel sorry for the animals involved, and by donating some money, you feel like you are gaining by helping those animals. This is an emotional gain. You may lose money, but mentally, you feel better.

Social Pressure

One thing people want is to fit in with society. People claim that they don't like conformity, but many will get rid of that idea once they are presented with a product that claims that it can make them a part of something. People will frame their product in a way that puts pressure on you to join. For example, a musician may claim that millions of people listen to them. You may want to join in because so many other people are doing it. It feels like an excellent gain to be a part of something that connects you with other people, even if it doesn't physically connect you with them.

Even something that is statistically unlikely can be presented as a gain of some type. Let's look at the lottery, for example. You have a 1 in 175 million chance of winning the lottery. The odds are not in your favor to win. However, marketers present the lottery with a frame that makes it seem like a chance for significant financial gain. "One person has to win. It could be you." This makes it seem much more likely than from a statistical standpoint. When it comes to presentation, positive framing will decrease risk aversion. If something is presented negatively, it will make people feel like they are taking risks.

The framing effect may influence different demographics in different ways. Someone who is young and is prone to risky behaviors may care less. An elderly person who is concerned with comfort and safety may want to take fewer risks. Products designed for older people will have more positive framing. This doctor can fix your bad back at a 70 percent success rate. You can receive plenty of benefits if you sign up for this life insurance policy. The list goes on.

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Meanwhile, teenagers and young adults display riskier behavior. There are many developmental factors in play that lead them to take more risks. Risk-based behaviors decrease as people age.

Scientific Studies on Framing

In a study conducted by Tversky and Kahneman, participants were asked to pick one of two treatments for an illness. In this scenario, there were 600 people who had a fatal disease.

  1. Treatment one was said to fail for 400 people, and therefore, they would die.
  2. Treatment two had a 33 percent chance of effectiveness for everyone, and a 66 percent chance that everyone would die.
  • Participants picked the first treatment when it was framed that 200 people would live.
  • Seventy-two percent of people supported this type of framing.
  • When framed as 400 people would die, it dropped to just 22 percent support.

Both framings had the same information, but the spin on each ultimately determined whether or not people were willing to support it.

Let's look at another study, this one involving registration for students. In one 2009 case, early registration was framed to students. There were two kinds of framings in this situation.

  1. One framed it as, "If you didn't register early, you would get fined."
  2. Another framed it by saying, "if you registered early, you would get a discount."

With the discount framing, 65 percent of students registered, which is great. However, when framed as a fine, almost everyone registered. It seemed that when the information was framed as a loss, more people were inclined to do it. People would rather avoid losing something than have a small gain.

In another study, a minority of people supported "forbidding public condemnation of democracy," while most were opposed to it if it were allowed. People don't seem to support something if the framing suggests that it will take something away.

Examples from the real world exist too. Economic policy is framed strategically when it is presented by policymakers. When a proposal is framed that it will positively contribute to employment, it will gain support. However, if the same proposal is framed through unemployment rates, fewer people are likely to support it. Framing is all over our legal system, as well. Pre-trial imprisonment leads to a higher incidence rate of plea deals. People who have been imprisoned are more likely to be released immediately than await a trial that could more accurately determine their sentence.


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How Does Framing Influence You?

Some people have social anxieties, insecurities, or other mental health issues that make them highly susceptible to framing. Being manipulated by the social strategies of others puts you in a vulnerable position. Expert framers can take advantage of people who don't understand. It could be that you see this pattern in your own life and relationships. Better Help is an online community of mental health professionals who can help. If you see yourself being taken advantage of or routinely manipulated, you can reach out to one of our licensed counselors and gain the strategies that you need to overcome these habits and gain confidence. Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp counselors.

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Conclusion

Becoming aware of the framing effect can help you critically evaluate any given choice that's presented to you. Too many people will automatically pick the decision that sounds the best, without looking at it through critical thinking. It can turn out that your decision has more risks but was framed in a way that makes it seem nicer. Awareness can help you make better decisions. Learning how to make better decisions and how to take risks that can benefit you is possible - you just need the right tools. You can take the first step today.


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