Let’s talk about cognitive biases: Framing Effect Bias
The framing effect bias describes the tendency to draw different conclusions from the exact same information based on how that information is presented. The framing effect is the idea that manipulation the way information is presented to the audience can alter and influence decision making about the information given. Framing is typically done in a manner that utilizes images, words, and presentation of a certain context around the subject matter that influences how people think about that information.
The context in which information is delivered to the audience shapes the perceptions. Information without context is meaningless— and if the context is spoon fed within a frame, it is altered by that context and frame. Positive frames elicit positive feelings and generally result in risk taking and proactive behavior—whereas negative frames tend to elicit negative feelings and result in risk aversion and reactive behaviors. Stress and pressure amplify both of these responses.
It’s basically marketing 101. If you can ‘spin’ the information about your product in a positive light, you will likely sell more.
We also see this in the news, where media outlets will report on the exact same events in different ways to suit their vested interests. I’m sure everyone can think of how the media has created hysteria based on negative information, which has manifested in risk aversion and irrational reactive behaviors.
Another great example is political events where there are clear political ideologies underlying the reporting, so much so that it’s unlikely anything you hear is truly objective. One side presenting context for passing a bill is framed in manner that if the bill doesn’t pass it will end humanity; while the other side frames it in the context of if the bill passes humanity will be doomed. The trick to avoiding the framing effect bias in politics is to study the information as objectively as possible and learn from both sides on the way in which they frame the issue to persuade you. Don’t allow them to pull your strings like a puppet. That really isn’t an objective choice now is it?
But to give you all a more concrete example of the framing effect in action, let’s consider the results of a study where 3 out of 50 people in the treatment group benefit from some intervention, compared to only 1 out of 50 people in the placebo group. There’s two accurate ways of presenting this information that have vastly different effects on your perceptions.
1.) The treatment was 300% more effective than placebo! A 3-fold greater response rate!
2.) Only 6% or 3 out of 50 people in the treatment group benefited, compared to just 2% or 1 person in the placebo group, making the difference a mere 4% or 2 people.
Both descriptions are accurate, but I guarantee that you’ll think the first sounds way better than the second. This is why it is important to focus on both relative and absolute changes in research. Three pennies is 3-fold more than one penny, but neither is a lot of money.
How do we avoid this bias?
Expose yourself to as many conflicting frames as you can on the subject matter. Why? It causes cognitive dissonance and the framing effect is typically neutralized leaving individuals to rely more on their own internal frames that have been created over time.
Research has also shown that people who are more educated on a topic and more involved, tend to suffer less from framing effects. We should be thinking through our choices on whatever the issue and not take what is being spoon fed as legit data. More detailed mental processing tends to allow us to see just how things are being presented to us and how it could skew our perceptions. In other words being intellectually lazy leads to you being an easy target for politicians and marketers.
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