Framing effect in psychology

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In this post, we’ll have a short discussion on what is the framing effect in psychology.

The field of psychology has been around for a while now and it has gifted us with a wealth of insights on the human mind and behavior. When before one would spend a lifetime trying to understand the people around him/her, now much of the understanding can be gathered straight from a psychology textbook.  And if someone were to ask me what part of psychology would I focus on first, that would be the area of cognitive biases.

The reason for this is that knowing when our reasoning can lead us astray can make the difference between a life well-lived and a wasted one.

Framing effect in psychology

The framing effect is a cognitive bias. In other words a  shortcut in reasoning that allows us to make decisions much more quickly than we would have if we spent some of our time trying to evaluate each piece of information that came to us. This cognitive bias, in particular, is about how we make decisions to do or not do something based on how it’s presented to us, like when we have to decide to buy or not buy a given product/service based on how the offer is presented to us.

What is the framing effect?

The framing effect is a cognitive bias that states that we, to put it in simple terms are more prone to respond with more caution when the options we have are framed in terms of risk rather than what we have to gain. Here the framing in framing effect is with regards to the idea that an offer can be made in more than one way, and depending on the way i.e the frame, the receiver of the offer might be more or less likely to accept it. Presenting the offer in terms of successes let’s say: 90% chances of succeeding will likely make people more prone to accept it and the reverse can be said about the opposite. There is one curious thing about the framing effect and that is that the chances of losing don’t have to be as high as the chances of succeeding in order to make us reject or accept the offer. This is due to the loss aversion principle.

The framing effect and loss aversion

If you’ve spent enough time reading or consuming any material on human nature, you probably stumbled into the fact that we are loss-averse beings. Meaning that more often than not, we’d prefer not losing what we already have rather than gaining something new. These phenomena can be said to be in part what goes on with the framing effect. The chances of gaining are as it implies your chances of gaining something in the future. The chances or losses as well, a chance that we might lose something in the future. That something I something we already have and thus it doesn’t take as much for us to try our best to avoid the loss.

Uses of the framing effect

The framing effect can be used in a variety of fields, but first and foremost, the knowledge of it by itself becomes instantly beneficial without any effort from your part. Meaning that knowing how the framing effect works and your propensities to it will more likely protect you from any acts of manipulation against you. Like with any other cognitive bias, knowing is half the battle.

The framing effect on job applications

If you’ve ever applied to a job, chances are that you’ve used the framing effect already. In a resume, you frame yourself in an appositive light. Each stated past work experience is your way of saying that most people you’ve worked for liked your work. This is assuming of course that each past employer is expected to be contacted and you have yourself in your best interest.

In a resume, you focus on your strengths and hardly on your weaknesses. You frame yourself as the ideal applicant with the best of your ability.


The same effect can be observed in sales. As a general rule, the salesman/woman implies that the product/service they are selling will always work and do as expected. There is no such thing as a flawless product batch. Over time deficiencies in what you sell are bound to escape quality control and lay in the hands of the customer. But this natural fact is hardly if ever brought to light. The product is framed under the light of 100% effectiveness/efficiency i.e  100% chances of winning.

There is definitely a growing movement from the part of companies today, to also bring back to light the fact that they will happily give your money back if the product doesn’t satisfy you, and I can see how one would see this as a representation of the chances that the product might fail but it goes beyond that.

By emphasizing the money-back guarantee, the companies do two things:

  1. They Reinforce the idea that you probably have a 100% chance of having a working product, because why else would they be so confident to make the offer in the first place?

2. For the ones who might be a bit more skeptical. Meaning the ones that there might still be a small chance of failure from the part of the product, the money-back guarantees will certainly bring them back to the 100% win scenario.

The framing effect in medicine

In medicine, the framing effect too plays its role. More often than not your visits to the doctor are completed with a clear and cut solution for our ailment. If we are diligent enough with the medication, eventually we recover and resume our lives. There are sometimes, however, when the solution is not that simple. Whether because of the severity or stage of the disease, the medical approach is varied and requires the input of the patient.

This is often observed in cancer cases where some intervention might have a higher or lower chance of recovery or even death. The way the doctor frames the options can too have an impact on what the patient chooses as its treatment. Here the framing effect on the negative side can have an even more powerful effect since what we lose if we do lose is the most important thing of all: our life.

The framing effect in our social life

In our social lives too we are subject to the framing effect. We like to think of ourselves as independent thinkers free of outside influence, special when it comes to our choices of who we decide to call our friends and lovers.

Here the framing effect is at play in two ways. The first is what goes by the name of social proof. Meaning that we are more naturally attracted to the kind of people other people are attracted to. This is true regardless of whether the person has any of the common attractiveness traits we associate with attractive people. We can’t help but wonder who they are and why crowds of people want to be around them.

The fact that people are attracted to them frames them in a positive light, and because there is hardly ever anyone saying how unattractive they are we don’t see our chances of losing by entering a relationship with them.

On the other hand, if we see a person alone, as mentioned in the book The art of seduction we are more likely to feel repelled to them. Thinking in terms of the framing effect the lone person is framing itself in a negative light. The scene implicitly tells us that no one found that person attractive, at least as far as we can tell.

These two examples are often what consciously or subconsciously drive our social life decisions.


The way we perceive things in life has a lot to do with how we interact with them. Often the gap between perceiving and interacting is so short that we can find it difficult to understand why we behave in certain ways or make certain choices. Thinking about your past choices in the light of the framing effect can be of great help. Bringing to light reasons or theories about your reasons for making the decisions you made.


What is a cognitive bias :

What is the social proof principle:

The art of seduction:

Druckman, J. (2001a).  “Evaluating framing effects” Journal of Economic Psychology. 22: 96–101.

Druckman, J. (2001b). “Using credible advice to overcome framing effects”. Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization. 17: 62–82

Gächter, S.; Orzen, H.; Renner, E.; Stamer, C. (2009).  “Are experimental economists prone to framing effects? A natural field experiment”  Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization. 70 (3): 443–46.

Kahneman, D., & Tversky, A. (1979). Prospect theory: An analysis of decision under risk. Econometrica, 47, 263-291.

It is all about knowledge and experience 😉

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