The framing effect is a cognitive bias in which people decide between options based on whether the options are presented with positive or negative connotations.[1] Individuals have a tendency to make risk-avoidant choices when options are positively framed, while selecting more loss-avoidant options when presented with a negative frame. In studies of the bias, options are presented in terms of the probability of either losses or gains. While differently expressed, the options described are in effect identical. Gain and loss are defined in the scenario as descriptions of outcomes, for example, lives lost or saved, patients treated or not treated, monetary gains or losses.[2]

Prospect theory posits that a loss is more significant than the equivalent gain,[2] that a sure gain (certainty effect and pseudocertainty effect) is favored over a probabilistic gain,[3] and that a probabilistic loss is preferred to a definite loss.[2] One of the dangers of framing effects is that people are often provided with options within the context of only one of the two frames.[4]

The concept helps to develop an understanding of frame analysis within social movements, and also in the formation of political opinion where spin plays a large role in political opinion polls that are framed to encourage a response beneficial to the organization that has commissioned the poll. It has been suggested that the use of the technique is discrediting political polls themselves.[5] The effect is reduced, or even eliminated, if ample credible information is provided to people.[5]


Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman explored how different phrasing affected participants' responses to a choice in a hypothetical life and death situation in 1981.[2]

Participants were asked to choose between two treatments for 600 people affected by a deadly disease. Treatment A was predicted to result in 400 deaths, whereas treatment B had a 33% chance that no one would die but a 66% chance that everyone would die. This choice was then presented to participants either with positive framing, i.e. how many people would live, or with negative framing, i.e. how many people would die.

Framing Treatment A Treatment B
Positive "Saves 200 lives" "A 33% chance of saving all 600 people, 66% possibility of saving no one."
Negative "400 people will die" "A 33% chance that no people will die, 66% probability that all 600 will die."

Treatment A was chosen by 72% of participants when it was presented with positive framing ("saves 200 lives") dropping to 22% when the same choice was presented with negative framing ("400 people will die").

A recent study was done on the framing effect in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Researchers found that the framing effect was larger in this context than under normal circumstances, indicating that individuals were more influenced by how options were presented during the pandemic. There was a positive association between the framing effect and perceived stress and concerns related to coronavirus, indicating that these factors are influential when it comes to decision-making. However, they were not related to risk aversion. [6]

This effect has been shown in other contexts:

Extensionality violation

In logic, extensionality requires "two formulas which have the same truth-value under any truth-assignments to be mutually substitutable salva veritate in a sentence that contains one of these formulas."[10] Put simply, objects that have the same external properties are equal. This principle, applied to decision making, suggests that making a decision in a problem should not be affected by how the problem is described. For example, varied descriptions of the same decision problem should not give rise to different decisions, due to the extensionality principle. If judgments are made on the basis of irrelevant information as described, that is called an extensionality violation. Addressing extensionality violations entails cultivating awareness of how different descriptions of a problem may inadvertently influence decisions, and as a result developing strategies to mitigate such deviations. In doing so, decision-makers can aim to uphold the extensionality principle as a guide in navigating the complexity of choice, focusing on decisions that are more in tune to the inherent properties of the problem rather than its descriptions.[10]

Developmental factors

The framing effect has consistently been shown to be one of the largest biases in decision making.[11] In general, susceptibility to framing effects increases with age. Age difference factors are particularly important when considering health care[12][13][14] and financial decisions. The susceptibility to framing can influence how older individuals perceive and in turn respond to information, potentially leading to less optimal choices that can have lasting consequences. In healthcare, for instance, where decisions profoundly affect well-being, the framing effect can sway older individuals towards or away from certain treatment options based on the way in which the medical information is presented. Likewise, in financial decision-making, the framing of retirement planning or investment risks may have significant impacts on the choices individuals make, potentially impacting their financial security and state in the later stages of their lives.[15]

However, the framing effect seems to disappear when encountering it in a foreign (non-native) language.[16]: 246 [17] One explanation of this disappearance is that a non-native language provides greater cognitive and emotional distance than one's native tongue.[18] A foreign language is also processed less automatically than a native tongue. This leads to more deliberation, which can affect decision making, resulting in decisions that are more systematic.[19]

Childhood and adolescence

Framing effects in decision-making become stronger as children age.[20][21][22] This is partially because qualitative reasoning increases with age.[20] While preschoolers are more likely to make decisions based on quantitative properties, such as probability of an outcome, elementary schoolers and adolescents become progressively more likely to reason qualitatively, opting for a sure option in a gain frame and a risky option in a loss frame regardless of probabilities.[20] The increase in qualitative thinking is related to an increase in "gist based" thinking that occurs over a lifetime.[23]

However, qualitative reasoning, and thus susceptibility to framing effects, is still not as strong in adolescents as in adults,[20][22] and adolescents are more likely than adults to choose the risky option under both the gain and loss frames of a given scenario.[21] One explanation for adolescent tendencies toward risky choices is that they lack real-world experience with negative consequences, and thus over-rely on conscious evaluation of risks and benefits,[21] focusing on specific information and details or quantitative analysis.[24] This reduces influence of framing effects and leads to greater consistency across frames of a given scenario.[24] Children between the ages of 10 and 12 are more likely to take risks and show framing effects, while younger children only considered the quantitative differences between the two options presented.[25]

Young adulthood

Younger adults are more likely than older adults to be enticed by risk-taking when presented with loss frame trials. This is a noteworthy phenomenon that underscores the complex interplay between age and decision-making tendencies.[11]

In multiple studies of undergraduate students, researchers have found that students are more likely to prefer options framed positively. This could be attributed to a variety of factors such as an inclination for novelty-seeking, a more optimistic outlook on outcomes, or even a reduced aversion to risk which is inherent in youth. [26]For example, they are more likely to enjoy meat labeled 75% lean meat as opposed to 25% fat, or use condoms advertised as being 95% effective as opposed to having a 5% risk of failure.[26]

Young adults are especially susceptible to framing effects when presented with an ill-defined problem in which there is no correct answer and individuals must arbitrarily determine what information they consider relevant.[26] For example, undergraduate students are more willing to purchase an item such as a movie ticket after losing an amount equivalent to the item's cost than after losing the item itself.This susceptibility underscores the importance of considering psychological factors in the context of decision-making. Recognizing this vulnerability emphasizes the need for decision-makers to be aware of cognitive biases when navigating decision-making in which there isn't a clear answer so that they can take a more informed approach.[26]

Older adulthood

The framing effect is claimed to be greater in older adults than in younger adults or adolescents.[12][13][27] This claim may be a result of enhanced negativity bias,[13] though some sources claim that the negativity bias actually decreases with age.[15]

In particular, this increased susceptibility to the framing effect manifested itself mainly in response to negative frames. Positive framings were not found to have a significant effect on the framing effect in older adults.[27] This may be due in part to socioemotional selectivity theory, where the increased age shifts the focus of adults from risk taking to maximizing their emotional experiences in the present, hence the increased framing in the negative frame.[27] The dual process theory may also play a role as negative framings evoke less heightened responses, leading to the deployment of the implicit processes. The implicit process is found to be frame-sensitive, and thus may be the reason why framing is pronounced in negative frames for older adults.[27][28]

Another possible cause is that older adults have fewer cognitive resources available to them and are more likely to default to less cognitively demanding strategies when faced with a decision.[11] They tend to rely on easily accessible information, or frames, regardless of whether that information is relevant to making the decision in question.[11] Several studies have shown that younger adults will make less biased decisions than older adults because they base their choices on interpretations of patterns of events and can better employ decision making strategies that require cognitive resources like working-memory skills. Older adults, on the other hand, make choices based on immediate reactions to gains and losses.[11]

Older adults' lack of cognitive resources, such as flexibility in decision making strategies, may cause older adults to be influenced by emotional frames more so than younger adults or adolescents.[29] In addition, as individuals age, they make decisions more quickly than their younger counterparts.[11] It is significant that, when prompted to do so, older adults will often make a less biased decision with reevaluation of their original choice.[11][12]

The increase in framing effects among older adults has important implications, especially in medical contexts.[12][13][14][27] Older adults are influenced heavily by the inclusion or exclusion of extraneous details, meaning they are likely to make serious medical decisions based on how doctors frame the two options rather than the qualitative differences between the options, causing older adults to inappropriately form their choices.[11]

When considering cancer treatments, framing can shift older adults' focus from short- to long-term survival under a negative and positive frame, respectively.[12] When presented with treatment descriptions described in positive, negative, or neutral terms, older adults are significantly more likely to agree to a treatment when it is positively described than they are to agree to the same treatment when it is described neutrally or negatively.[13] Additionally, framing often leads to inconsistency in choice: a change in description qualities after an initial choice is made can cause older adults to revoke their initial decision in favor of an alternative option.[13] Older adults also remember positively framed statements more accurately than negatively framed statements.[12][30] This has been demonstrated by evaluating older adults' recall of statements in pamphlets about health care issues.[12][30]

See also


  1. ^ Plous 1993
  2. ^ a b c d Tversky & Kahneman 1981
  3. ^ Clark 2009
  4. ^ Druckman 2001a
  5. ^ a b c Druckman 2001b
  6. ^ Rachev, Nikolay R.; Han, Hyemin; Lacko, David; Gelpí, Rebekah; Yamada, Yuki; Lieberoth, Andreas (2021-09-10). "Replicating the Disease framing problem during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic: A study of stress, worry, trust, and choice under risk". PLOS ONE. 16 (9): e0257151. Bibcode:2021PLoSO..1657151R. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0257151. ISSN 1932-6203. PMC 8432807. PMID 34506543.
  7. ^ Gächter et al. 2009
  8. ^ Rugg, as cited in Plous 1993
  9. ^ Bibas, Stephanos (2004). "Plea Bargaining outside the Shadow of Trial". Harvard Law Review. 117 (8): 2463–47. doi:10.2307/4093404. JSTOR 4093404. SSRN 464880.
  10. ^ a b Bourgeois-Gironde, Sacha; Giraud, Raphaël (2009). "Framing effects as violations of extensionality" (PDF). Theory and Decision. 67 (4): 385–404. doi:10.1007/s11238-009-9133-7. ISSN 0040-5833. S2CID 17963795.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h Thomas, A. K.; Millar, P. R. (2011). "Reducing the Framing Effect in Older and Younger Adults by Encouraging Analytic Processing". The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences. 67B (2): 139–49. doi:10.1093/geronb/gbr076. hdl:10.1093/geronb/gbr076. PMID 21964668.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g Erber, Joan (2013). Aging and Older Adulthood (3 ed.). John Wiley & Sons. p. 218. ISBN 978-0-470-67341-6. Archived from the original on 2017-08-10. Retrieved 2014-11-03.
  13. ^ a b c d e f Peters, Ellen; Finucane, Melissa; MacGregor, Donald; Slovic, Paul (2000). "The Bearable Lightness of Aging: Judgment and Decision Processes in Older Adults" (PDF). In Paul C. Stern; Laura L. Carstensen (eds.). The aging mind: opportunities in cognitive research. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press. ISBN 978-0-309-06940-3.
  14. ^ a b Hanoch, Yaniv; Thomas Rice (2006). "Can Limiting Choice Increase Social Welfare? The Elderly and Health Insurance". The Milbank Quarterly. 84 (1): 37–73. doi:10.1111/j.1468-0009.2006.00438.x. JSTOR 25098107. PMC 2690155. PMID 16529568.
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  16. ^ Zuckermann, Ghil'ad (2020). Revivalistics: From the Genesis of Israeli to Language Reclamation in Australia and Beyond. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199812790. ISBN 9780199812776
  17. ^ Keysar, B.; Hayakawa, S. L.; An, S. G. (2012). "The Foreign-Language Effect: Thinking in a Foreign Tongue Reduces Decision Biases". Psychological Science. 23 (6): 661–68. doi:10.1177/0956797611432178. ISSN 0956-7976. PMID 22517192. S2CID 1397617.
  18. ^ Keysar, Boaz; Hayakawa, Sayuri; An, Sun Gyu (2012). "The Foreign-Language Effect : Thinking in a Foreign Tongue Reduces Decision Biases" (PDF). Psychological Science. 23 (6): 661–8. doi:10.1177/0956797611432178. PMID 22517192. S2CID 1397617. Archived from the original (PDF) on 23 November 2015. Retrieved 3 December 2014.
  19. ^ Keysar, Boaz; Hayakawa, Sayuri; An, Sun Gyu (2012). "The Foreign-Language Effect : Thinking in a Foreign Tongue Reduces Decision Biases" (PDF). Psychological Science. 23 (6): 661–8. doi:10.1177/0956797611432178. PMID 22517192. S2CID 1397617. Archived from the original (PDF) on 23 November 2015. Retrieved 3 December 2014.
  20. ^ a b c d Reyna, V. F.; Farley, F. (2006). "Risk and Rationality in Adolescent Decision Making: Implications for Theory, Practice, and Public Policy". Psychological Science in the Public Interest. 7 (1): 1–44. doi:10.1111/j.1529-1006.2006.00026.x. PMID 26158695. S2CID 16591695.
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  22. ^ a b Strough, J.; Karns, T. E.; Schlosnagle, L. (2011). "Decision-making heuristics and biases across the life span". Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 1235 (1): 57–74. Bibcode:2011NYASA1235...57S. doi:10.1111/j.1749-6632.2011.06208.x. PMC 3755606. PMID 22023568.
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Further reading