Coined by behavioural economists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, framing bias is a type of cognitive bias refers to how people react differently to the same information based on how it is presented.
Often, our choices are heavily influenced by whether the options are framed in a positive or negative manner.
Here are 15 intriguing examples of framing bias that permeate various aspects of our lives:
Healthcare and medicine
1. Survival vs mortality rates. When doctors inform patients that a particular surgery has a 90% survival rate, individuals are more likely to opt for the procedure than if they are told it has a 10% mortality rate, even though both statistics convey the same meaning.
2. Vaccination wording. Parents may be more inclined to vaccinate their children when the vaccine is described as “preventing disease” rather than “lowering the risk of complications.”
3. Tax relief vs tax burden. Politicians often frame taxes as either a burden or relief to influence public opinion. By framing it as “relief”, it appears as a benefit, while “burden” makes it seem oppressive.
4. Defence spending vs military budget. The term “defence spending” may generate public support because it implies protection, whereas “military budget” could be perceived as aggressive or unnecessary.
5. Climate change. The choice between describing it as “global warming” versus “climate change” has varying impacts on public perception. The former may incite more immediate concern, while the latter seems less severe.
6. Protecting wildlife vs regulating hunting. Campaigns focusing on “protecting wildlife” are often better received than those centred on “regulating hunting”, even though both aim for ecological balance.
7. Savings vs losses. People are more willing to go for a deal framed as “save £20” as opposed to “avoid losing £20”, even though both mean the same thing financially.
8. Investment returns. Investors tend to be more risk-averse when potential gains are framed as “keeping £1,000 of your initial investment” versus “losing £1,000”.
9. Pass rates vs fail rates. Educational institutions often highlight pass rates instead of fail rates to attract students, even when the data represent two sides of the same coin.
10. Learning objectives vs learning barriers. Educators who frame their teaching goals as overcoming “learning barriers” instead of achieving “learning objectives” may find students less engaged.
11. Immigration. The language used to describe immigrants – such as “refugees” versus “migrants” – can sway public sentiment and policy decisions significantly.
12. Public assistance. Terms like “welfare” or “benefits” might have a different public reception compared to the term “public assistance”.
Advertising and Marketing
13. Buy one, get one free vs two for the price of one. Both offers may be equivalent, but customers are more likely to be drawn to the “buy one, get one free” frame.
14. Limited time offers. Framing a sale as a “limited time offer” encourages urgency, making people more likely to buy.
15. Satisfaction guaranteed or money back. Framing product guarantees as a win-win situation (“satisfaction guaranteed”) rather than focusing on the potential for failure (“money back if not satisfied”) can boost sales.
Framing bias is not merely an abstract psychological concept but a practical issue that affects our day-to-day decisions, from healthcare to finance, and even our ethical viewpoints. Being aware of how framing influences your choices is the first step towards more rational decision-making. The next time you come across information, pay attention to its framing and ponder on how it affects your perception and choices. Awareness can be a powerful tool in navigating a world teeming with framing biases.
By understanding these examples and applying critical thought, we can become more discerning consumers of information, ultimately leading to better decisions in both personal and public spheres.
Holly Thompson, PhD is a clinical psychologist specialising in cognitive behavioural therapy and the psychology of decision-making.