Framing Effect: Power of Perspectives

In today’s world, we have to make a lot of choices. Think about our ancestors who lived tens of thousands of years ago. They all had very simple lives. They were not confronted with thousands of advertisements every day, and making decisions about the future was not very difficult. The men were engaged in hunting and gathering, while the women stayed at home (caves, let’s say) taking care of the children. Today, life is much more complicated. There are so many choices that people have to make decisions all the time. However, the human brain still falls into some small traps when making decisions. Today we are going to look at one of these little traps, the Framing Effect.

Photo: Sebastian Bertalan, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A trap?

Actually, it is not correct to call it a trap. Rather, it is a cognitive bias. Let’s explain it very briefly: This effect is about the positive or negative connotations that people are presented with when they make decisions. People tend to be risk-averse to a proposition presented with a positive frame, while they prefer to take risks with a proposition presented with a negative frame. Of course, when you put it like this, it seems quite complex and difficult. In this post, we will go into the details of this.

For example…

Let’s start with a quick example. There is a disease in the world. This disease passes without leaving any effects with a rate of 50%. But 50% of the time it causes paralysis. You are a scientist developing a drug against this disease. Thanks to your drug, the cure rate increases from 50% to 80%. However, there is a 20% chance of death without even paralysis. How would you market this drug? This is where the framing effect comes in. If you can get people to pay attention to the cure rate, congratulations, you’re rich! But if people would rather be paralyzed than dead, then all your efforts are in vain. So how do you get people to pay attention to the cure rate?

Actually, according to the framing effect, it’s quite simple. Be positive. No, no, I don’t mean be cheerful, I mean tell people about the positive effects of the drug. Nobody wants to hear about the failure rate of a drug. You decide which ad is more effective accordingly:

Another example

Well, now let’s take a different example. This example is actually the most common example. It is also very similar to the previous example, yet a real one. In 1981, Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman conducted a study exploring the impact of different phrasings on participants’ choices in a hypothetical life-and-death situation. Participants were asked to decide between two treatments for 600 people with a deadly disease. Treatment A was expected to result in 400 deaths, while treatment B had a 33% chance of saving everyone and a 66% chance of everyone dying. The presentation of this choice with positive framing (emphasizing lives saved) led to 72% choosing Treatment A, compared to only 22% when presented with negative framing (emphasizing deaths).

Image and text from Wikipedia. 20/01/2024


In the end, our journey through the world of the framing effect reminds us just how much our decision-making is shaped by the way information is presented. Whether it’s choosing between life-saving treatments or navigating the complexities of a pandemic, the framing effect is a sneaky influencer that taps into our perceptions and emotions.

So, the next time you find yourself faced with a choice, take a moment to consider not just the options but how they’re framed. Understanding this subtle but powerful cognitive bias can empower us to make more informed decisions and navigate the twists and turns of life with a bit more clarity.

Let’s be mindful framers, not just of pictures but of our choices too!

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