The Psychology of Choice

In the article ‘The Framing of Decisions and the Psychology of Choice’ by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, the event of decision making is explored.

A problem that was described in the article that I thought really outlined its magnitude was this,

The Us is is preparing for the outbreak of an unusual Asian disease, which is expected to kill 600 people. two alternative programs to combat the disease have been proposed. Assume that the exact scientific estimate of the consequences of the program are as follows:

if program A is adopted, 200 people will be saved

if program B is adopted, there is a 1/3 probability that 600 people will be saved and a 2/3 probability that no people will be saved.

When asked this in a survey 72 percent of people chose program A and 28 percent chose program B.

Yet when the same question was asked with program A being phrased as ‘if program A is adopted, 400 people will die‘ the statistics changed hugely with only 22 percent of people choosing program A and then 78 percent choosing program B- showing a complete shift in the peoples choices!

I think this example really highlights how psychology and framing could be used to influence other people decisions. this example is very effective as it uses peoples lives in a risk taking example, but the same concept could really be applied to any decision whether it be a life changing event or simply choosing which brand of hairdryer to buy.

when using psychology to get people to make certain decisions the certainty effect and the pseudocertainty effect are also important elements. the certainty effect can appear when there is a certain outcome rather than just a probable one, the pseudocertainty effect is when there is an unjustified sense of certainty. For example a previous win of $10 in a game with friends might lead you to make the same decision that led to the win rather than reevaluating new options.

This article really makes you think about decisions, when someone gives you an choice to make- is it really an obvious decision or does it just seem like it is? is it possible to be given a choice and it not be influenced psychologically? for the statement to be completely unframed? and finally is it ethical to purposely frame a decision when presenting a choice to someone else?


Tversky, A and Kahneman, D. 1981. The Framing of Decisions and the Psychology of Choice. Science 211
(4481): 453-458.


4 comments so far

  1. ashfonty on

    I find the topic of message framing very interesting, but in particular the way statistics are framed to allow people to make a choice. I think often there is a lack of understanding between the science that needs to be communicated and the people communicating it.

    I love the example of life/death statistics where you can say you have an 80% chance of living, instead of a 20% chance of dying. I recently did an example with the males in a tutorial in relation to single event probabilities of sexual impotence. Theoretically no-one was willing to take a new drug that may help their overall health if it meant there was a slight chance that their sexual performance would be impacted – understandable!

    I don’t have a great understanding of how this is used in advertising but I am sure I have fallen into one of their traps! I think the ethicality of doing this really depends on what is at stake. For example, I wouldn’t find it so unethical if these techniques were used to make me buy a particular brand of hairdryer, however if it affected my health (or sexual performance) then I would want a much more matter of fact framing! Facts only!

    • zoesimmons on

      I completely agree with you- the statistics and the way they are presented are not truly communicating a message thta is easily understood. Seen with the complete shift in peoples thinking.

      Boys will be boys. It sounds like you did an interesting experiment.Do you think if you changed the danger to their health to a statistical percentage and the same with the impotence the outcome could be different?

      In advertising I believe a lot of the time they use framing to create a posotive attitiude around the product or service. The ethics of framing and using psychology to influence peoples decisions could definitely be serious (seen in the above example) when peoples lives are at stake. yet i’m inclined to agree with you that most of the time it is harmless and we all do it!

  2. axl1228 on

    Your example of saving how many people is perfect and very interesting. That makes me recall the pig example in the class. We say that “A pig is as intellegent as a 3 years old girl, so save it!”, maybe someone think it’s a little touching at least. However, if we put in this way, “A 3 years old girl is as intellegent as a pig, so educate her!”, you can imagine the result of such an advertisement.
    So the same fact, people can perceive in different way. It depends on their knowledge, culture, habits…it also depends on in which way the fact is put out.
    I don’t think it’s unethical affect people’s choice and judgment by using framing. I think whenever you state a fact, you are framing it. It cannot be avoided. The problem is what happens when you tell the distinct between what you tell people and what you tell yourself.

    • zoesimmons on

      That is a good point, the concept can definetly be spun around in some circumstances. In this example a few people might be offended though! This is a negative frame in both circumstances, as we learnt in the lecture form Mirriam, this isn’t the most effective way to advertise!

      I think you are completely right in thinking that peoples contex and past experience will influence their choice in the the end. But what if you used knowledge of someones background to create a choice that would phycologically influence them? the ethics really depend on the magnitude of the decision.

      Your point on unavoidability is interesting, and I think you are completely correct that we all do it subconciously, but what about when we start doing it conciously?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: