Definition of Framing Effects


Framing effects are the changes in a decision-making process based on how the decision is framed. They are present in essentially every decision people make; indeed, they are so ubiquitous that people hardly notice them at the time. Understanding the impact of framing effects lets you make more rational, coherent decisions that rely on evidence rather than how that evidence is expressed.


Framing is connected to your emotions. Framing a decision in different ways brings your emotions more or less into it; the more your emotions are connected, the more susceptible you are to framing. Neuroscientists confirmed this by giving subjects decisions and watching the activity in their amygdala, the brain's emotional center. The more activity the amygdala experienced, the more susceptible the subjects were to framing.

Framing and Memories

Framing a question can change your memory of an event. For example, one study published by Aldert Vrij had subjects watch footage of a car accident, then describe it based on questions. If they were asked less-emotionally-heavy questions such as "How fast were the cars going when they contacted each other," they gave smaller numbers than more emotionally-heavy framing such as "how fast were the cars going when they collided/hit/bumped each other?" This shows that framing can change your memories, which go on to affect your decisions.

Risky Choice

Framing can influence how people take risks. One well-known 1981 study gave people a theoretical scenario in which a disease would kill 600 people if left untreated. The subjects were given two options. Option A would definitely save 200 people, while option B had a one-third probability of saving everyone and a two-thirds probability of saving nobody.

Another group was given these same options, but framed differently. Option C would kill 400 people while option D had a one-third probability of ensuring zero deaths and a two-thirds probability of 600 people dying. The subjects preferred to gamble in the second situation but preferred to take the sure thing (option A) in the first situation, even though they were actually the same. This shows how framing affects how people take risks.

Mass Communication

Framing dramatically affects advertising and political campaigns. "Ninety percent fat-free" sounds much better than "10 percent fat." Politically, a key example of framing was the change of "global warming," which has negative connotations, to "climate change," which has neutral connotations. Politicians and advertisers re-frame things on a regular basis to stimulate the amygdala and influence people without changing the raw information.

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