The Framing Effect and How It Influences the Way You Make Decisions

The same information, presented in a different way, can lead you to reach different conclusions. This is known as the framing effect. In this article, we'll look at its consequences and how it can be overcome.
The Framing Effect and How It Influences the Way You Make Decisions

Last update: 22 June, 2022

The framing effect is a cognitive bias in which the brain makes decisions about information depending on the way it’s presented.  In other words, the same information, presented in a different way, can lead to different conclusions. ‘Framing’ concerns the way the information is presented.

In advertising and marketing, framing has a functional effect. It motivates people to make unconscious choices, depending on how they formulate the alternatives of gain or loss.

In this article, you’ll learn about this psychological phenomenon and how it can be overcome.

Many sales and discounts signs depicting the framing effect.

Study on the framing effect

A good way to explain the framing effect is through research conducted by psychologists Daniel Kahneman and  Amos Tversky from Stanford University.

In their study, the researchers asked participants what solution they’d choose to save the majority of 600 people affected by a hypothetical disease. They presented them with the following options:

  • Option A. Save 200 lives.
  • Option B. An alternative solution in which the probability of saving all 600 people was 33 percent, while there was a 66 percent chance of saving no one.

Given these alternatives, 72 percent of the participants chose option A, since the second seemed too risky.

Subsequently, the psychologists presented the same information, but formulated it differently :

  • Option A. 400 people die
  • Option B. There’s a 33 percent chance that no one will die and a 66 percent chance that everyone will die.

With this new formulation, 78 percent of the participants chose option B. On analyzing both formulations, we can see that only the language has changed, but the message remains the same. Thus, the researchers influenced the participants to choose a new option.

Causes of the framing effect

Cognitive biases are evolutionary strategies that your brain uses to speed up the information that reaches you and optimize its subsequent processing through heuristic rules (ways of looking for solutions to problems).

Although you’re not always right, making quick decisions improves your processing capacity. It must be said that it’d be impossible to give a correct answer to the thousands of decisions that you have to make on a daily basis.

The framing effect in marketing and advertising

Once this cognitive bias was verified, the world of sales was quick to take advantage of it. In fact, most marketing and advertising strategies use the framing effect to elicit the desired response from the customer.

As consumers and users, we must be aware of the existence of this bias and be cautious against commercial tricks that try to trap us using this effect and others like it.

How does the framing effect influence your decisions?

The key to this bias lies in the framework with which information is presented to you. There are three types of framing effects.

Attribute framing

This consists of highlighting a positive characteristic against a negative one to affect your perception.

For example, if you were given these two options, which would you choose? A brand of milk that’s 99 percent fat-free or one that’s only one percent fat?

Risky choice framing

This method highlights profit versus loss, thus making a product or investment look better. In other words, it emphasizes what can be gained and not the possibility of losing.

For instance, “a 60 percent win” sounds better than a “40 percent loss”.

Goal framing framework

This framework uses the loss aversion bias to elicit the desired response. The most classic example is “Don’t miss this never to be repeated offer”.

When your options are presented in terms of what you stand to lose if you don’t buy or invest, it’s easier for you to make a hasty decision.

How to avoid it?

Here are some tips to help you make better decisions and avoid falling into advertising traps.

1. Reframe the problem

To overcome the framing effect bias, sometimes the situation simply needs reframing. This means seeing it from both points of view, taking into account the negative and positive sides. Hence, you can make a more rational decision.

2. Assume a psychological distance

Becoming a kind of outside observer allows you to take a more impartial stance. Indeed, by putting your emotions aside, you can better assess the situation from a more rational point of view.

Couple shopping for clothes
The framing effect makes the context influence our decisions.

3. Activate your thinking

The framing effect is due, in large part, to mental laziness or cognitive greed. In most cases, you don’t want to bother and invest time and effort in analyzing all the factors, so you prefer to make decisions quickly.

As we said earlier, the framing effect isn’t always negative. In fact, in some cases it can make you more efficient and obtain more results with less effort. However, this isn’t always the case. When you have to make important decisions, you need to deactivate your automatic thinking mechanism and thoroughly check the situation. That means asking yourself questions, seeking more information, and taking more time to reflect on your response.

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