What is the framing effect?

Data Literacy Uncertainty and Misinformation

Tl;dr: The framing effect is a cognitive bias in which our choices are more influenced by how information is presented than the information itself. We can overcome the framing effect by purposefully rephrasing information to reflect both positive and negative aspects of the choice, separating the information from the razzle dazzle, and gathering as much data as we can.

Imagine you are at a bakery and trying to pick out a tasty treat. Next to a hefty slice of chocolate cake is a big sign that reads “Guiltless chocolate cake 80% fat free!” Wow, you think. I have to get that cake! It’s so healthy! Would you still buy that cake if the sign read “20% fat?” Both numbers are factually correct but 20% fat sounds WAY worse than 80% fat free, especially when you want cake!

This is called the framing effect. The framing effect is when an individual’s choices and opinions are influenced more by how the information is presented (either positively or negatively) than by the actual information. We are all susceptible to framing all the time. Advertisers use framing shamelessly to sell us products by highlighting positive information and downplaying the negative.

Framing also impacts our healthcare decisions, ranging from whether or not we choose to treat a disease, have surgery, or participate in cancer screening. Framing effects have very real and very significant impacts on our lives.

Happily, we can combat the framing effect with a few simple strategies. First, when presented with information in either a positive or negative light, we can take a moment to rephrase that same information in the opposite connotation and see if that shifts our opinion. For example, if a treatment has a 70% chance of survival, that also means that it has a 30% chance of death. Does reframing it change your willingness to accept that treatment?

Next, we can try to eliminate all the fluff from the presentation of the information and get “just the facts.” Try to filter out the adjectives, misleading pictures, and emotional music. Ask yourself what information was actually shared and if any frame was used to sway your choice one way or another.
Lastly, find more data! Gathering as much information as possible can mitigate the framing effect and help us make thoughtful choices.

Stay safe. Stay well.

Those Nerdy Girls


The Decision Lab: Why do our decisions depend on how options are presented to us?

Tracking Happiness: What is the Framing Effect (and 5 Ways to Avoid it!)

Simply Psychology: Framing Effect In Psychology

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