What is the framing effect? 

The framing effect states that the way of presenting the information can influence decisions. The information can be more or less attractive depending on what features are highlighted. 

People can show choices to highlight the positive or negative aspects of the same decision, leading to changes in people’s behavior. The framing effect was also used for decades in political communication. It highlights information a communicator chooses to place in a particular message.

The framing effect is another cognitive bias discovered by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, like the anchoring effect. Kahneman and Tversky created an experiment called “Asian disease problem,” exposing the framing effect. Participants were asked to consider a scenario in which the United States is preparing for an Asian disease that would kill 600 people. Two alternative strategies to combat the illness have been proposed.

Assume that both programs are equally effective, and the consequences of the projects are estimated as follows:

The first group of participants was presented with a choice between programs:

Program A: “Out of 600 people, 200 people will be saved.”

Program B: “there is a 1/3 probability that 600 people will be saved and a 2/3 probability that no one will be saved.”

72 percent of participants preferred program A (the remaining 28%, opting for program B).

The second group of participants was presented with the choice between the following:

Program C: “Out of 600 people, 400 people will die.”

Program D: “there is a 1/3 probability that nobody will die, and a 2/3 probability that 600 people will die.”

In this group, 78% preferred program D, with the remaining 22% choosing program C.

Programs A and C are identical, so the programs B and D. 

The change in the decision frame between the two groups of participants created reversed preferences. When the programs were presented regarding lives saved, the participants preferred the secure option, program A, identical to program C. 

However, participants chose the gamble D, equal to program B when the programs were presented in terms of expected deaths.

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Based on this experiment, Kahneman and Tversky proved that framed choices are determined by how options are described in terms of different wording, reference points, and emphasis. The most frequent framing focuses on one aspect or the other of an option’s advantage or harm. We’re susceptible to it since we prefer avoiding disappointment.

As stated in our article about loss aversion, people are more willing to cheat or take risks to avoid losing than obtain profit. We prefer a sure gain to a probable one and a likely loss to an inevitable loss. Therefore, we look for options that give us an inevitable gain. 

The framing effect says the way something is framed can make us feel more certain about what we gain.

Why is the framing effect important?

Because framing affects behavior, we have to understand when it works against us. It is crucial to comprehend framing so that we use it to make our message more influential and persuasive. The framing effect can distort our perception of the event. 

Therefore, we need to be careful and take out the frames to look for basic information in the decision-making process. Using the framing effect, we can even reduce the messaging of competitors and people promoting conflicting viewpoints.

The framing effect is widely used in marketing communications to highlight the positive framing of an offer. For example, a product that costs $20 could be presented as costing $1 per day (positive framing), or it might be thought of as costing $365 if bought without discount (negative framing).

We usually prefer a choice framed in terms of gains than framing it in terms of losses.

Politicians also use the framing effect, and framing a political message in the right way can influence voters’ perception about what’s best for them. For example, framing immigration as a problem can make people more likely to vote for a candidate who promises stricter border control.

Positive and negative framing

Positive framing occurs when the emphasis is put on positive information, which becomes a positive frame. When presenting information, sometimes positive frames are more efficient, e.g., “You have 90% surviving the operation” instead of “You have 10% dying on the operation table”.

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Negative framing includes an aversion to losing and the feeling of threat. For example, using “If you don’t take this medication, you will die” instead of ” If you take this medication, you will live.” Negative frames make people afraid of losing something important, like life or opportunity.

The choice between positive framing and negative framing depends on deferral in time of consequences. Usually, you would use a positive frame referring to quick results, for example, “Get your life’s best sleep today.”

On the other hand, a negative frame can be more effective in terms of long-term consequences, for example, “Avoid getting back pain when you’re old.”

In marketing, negative and positive framing is quite popular, especially when it comes to sales and special deals. Marketers often use messages like “Don’t miss out,” “Last chance,” or “You save up to 70%”, “You can save 200$ today”.

Negative framing is more effective when we are unclear about a choice, and positive framing is preferable when the choice is clear.

Manipulating framing is not the same as manipulating choice. When marketers manipulate framing, they present two or more options differently, but the possibilities remain precisely the same.

However, manipulating framing can change how consumers think about a product and buy it without thinking about the consequences.

Types of frames

Levin, Schneider, and Gaeth identified three types of framing tasks:

  1. Risky-choice framing, for example, Asia Disease Problem. In this frame, the message is conveyed in terms of a gamble that will end in a loss or a profit. When a customer is convinced, they have something to gain they are more likely to take action. It’s important to properly assess how much risk the consumer is willing to assume to avoid a loss.
  2. Attribute framing, for example, yogurt can be described as “20% fat” or “80% fat-free”, which refers to negative and positive framing. When the frame highlights a desirable attribute, the customer is more likely to buy it. When the frame highlights an undesirable quality, the customer is less likely to buy it. The most important part is to identify the needs and desires of your customers.
  3. Goal framing, which refers to the benefit brought from actions or the aftermath of no actions, may significantly influence people’s motivation. This frame encourages people to participate by highlighting the negative outcome of not participating. When options are framed regarding what will be missed by not participating, the customer is more likely to take action. The vital part is to understand which adverse outcomes will motivate the consumer to take action.  

Visual framing

Visual framing is a little different from before presented, but it also has its place in marketing. The framing of visual components in an image, particularly the placement of the subject concerning other objects, is known as visual framing. 

The goal is to divert the viewer’s attention to the subject, but the artist has ultimate control over the ends and means. It’s done by changing the perspective of the picture rather than the thing being depicted.

Color and imagery and font size, type, and style are among the features that might be included in visual frames. Color, for example, is compelling, promoting a distinct characteristic.

Different colors are utilized to create different qualities and unique viewpoints on the goods or services being sold. As a consequence, these may influence our buying decisions.

Usually, we want to obey social norms. We wrote about it in our article about social proof. That means following what everyone else is doing.

For example, silver, white, and black are relatively neutral colors. They aren’t in your face or stand out, which is why they are so popular. However, it can significantly affect how we interpret the car and our feelings towards it.

Another essential component is a font and its type and size. The message can be presented in the same way but can trigger different responses from the size or style. For example, using such a font wouldn’t be very effective for fonts that aren’t very legible. 

The other thing is ‘small print.’ Most of the time, people don’t bother reading it because it’s easy to miss. But it also can be used in marketing terms; just because we don’t read the small print, we won’t realize what is covered by the warranty and what isn’t.

Conclusion

The framing effect is a concept in psychology that deals with how we interpret and feel about events. It’s crucial for framing because it can influence how we react to something.

In addition, frames are robust, and they can be used to influence how we behave or make decisions. Framing an action as a gain will make us more likely to complete the task. When framing, it’s essential to know if the consumer is willing to take risks; framing as a loss could discourage people from acting at all because of the risk involved.

Author

Experienced psychologist and T-shaped marketer with a deep love for content marketing and conversion copywriting. Privately a big fan of travel, coffee, and jazz!

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