What Is the Framing Effect? | Definition & Examples
The framing effect occurs when people react differently to something depending on whether it is presented as positive or negative. In other words, our decision is influenced by how the information is presented rather than what is being said.
The framing effect can impact our decision-making skills and can be observed in a number of contexts and fields (e.g., psychology, political communication, and marketing).
What is the framing effect?
The framing effect is a type of cognitive bias or error in thinking. ‘Framing’ refers to whether an option is presented as a loss (negative) or a gain (positive).
People are generally biased toward picking an option they view as a gain over one they view as a loss, even if both options lead to the same result. They are also more likely to make a riskier decision when the option is presented as a gain, as opposed to a loss.
Why does the framing effect happen?
The framing effect is a result of different mental processes that take place when we are faced with a decision. Here are a few of the mechanisms that can help explain why the framing effect occurs:
- Loss aversion: people value a certain gain more than a probable gain, even if the probable gain has a greater expected value. The pain of losing is emotionally taxing and something we try to avoid. Due to this, information with a certain gain is more appealing to us, even though we don’t realise it. We prefer positive frames, and framing influences how probable a gain or loss is.
- The availability heuristic: due to our limited ability to process information at any given moment, our minds default to choices that demand less resources. That is why, when faced with a decision, we rely upon knowledge that is readily available rather than examine other alternatives. When we are presented with options that are clearly framed, we are more inclined to choose them.
- The affect heuristic: decision-making is not a purely rational process. We also rely on our emotions. This explains why appeals to emotion work: when an option is framed in such a way as to elicit an affective reaction, we tend to favor that.
Framing effect examples
Framing is often used in political communication to influence how an event or policy is perceived.
The framing effect can also play a role in medical decisions, for example, when evaluating the effectiveness of a treatment.
Other types of research bias
Frequently asked questions about the framing effect
- What is the framing effect in polling?
In survey research, such as political polling, the way questions are worded or the order in which answers are presented can influence how respondents answer the questions. This is called the framing effect.
For example, if voters are asked to select which of two candidates they plan to vote for, the order in which the candidates are listed affects the percentage of respondents selecting each candidate. Recognising the potential for research bias, researchers typically rotate which major candidate is listed first and which is listed second.
- What is the framing effect in advertising?
The framing effect is often used in advertising to positively influence consumer choice.
One common type of frame is ‘gain framing‘. This shows consumers how they are going to benefit from a product or service. For example, dental care product advertisements use gain framing to display the benefits of using their product: white teeth, healthy gums, fresh breath, etc.
Apart from the obvious benefits, ads using the framing effect often imply other benefits, such as how a better-looking smile makes one more attractive to potential dating partners.
- What is the framing effect in economics?
Because of the framing effect, the way information is presented to us influences how attractive a proposition is.
Suppose you are considering joining a gym. A membership at £500 per year sounds like a considerable investment and might prevent you from signing up immediately. However, if they tell you it costs just £1.37 per day and emphasize that this is less than the cost of a cup of coffee, you might think it’s a great offer, even though in reality both offers cost you the same.
- What are common types of cognitive bias?
Cognitive bias is an umbrella term used to describe the different ways in which our beliefs and experiences impact our judgment and decision making. These preconceptions are ‘mental shortcuts’ that help us speed up how we process and make sense of new information.
However, this tendency may lead us to misunderstand events, facts, or other people. Cognitive bias can be a source of research bias.
Some common types of cognitive bias are:
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