What happen when you mix the framing of messages and the psychology of choice?

Combining the article ‘The Framing of Decisions and the Psychology of Choice” by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman and the science communication lecture “Framing Animal Welfare” by Miriam Sullivan, I will be discussing how different framing messages influence decision-makers.


What do you get when the framing of decisions and the psychology of choice combine?

Firstly, I would like to define the term “framed message”. We use this term to describe how we convey the key message to the audience. As science communicators, it is important to determine which type of frames would help the audience to understand the key message and get them to act on the message. We can adopt gain-framed (positive) or loss-framed (negative) messages as the two main strategies for persuading the audiences to make a certain choice.  Taking problems illustrated in the article, I will elaborate on how the effect of variations in framing can be powerful and useful in influencing the choices people make.

People (N = 150) were asked in a survey to make:

Decision (i) choose between:

  1. A sure gain of $240 (result = 84% chose option A)
  2. 25% chance to gain $1000 and 75% chance to gain nothing (result = 16% chose option B)

Decision (ii) choose between:

  1. A sure loss of $750 (result = 13% chose option C)
  2. 75% chance to lose $1000, and 25% chance to lose nothing (result = 87% chose option D)

From this study, the outcomes are expressed as positive and negative deviations (gain and looses).

The majority choice in decision (i) is risk adverse, in which the prospect of certainly wining $240 is more attractive compared to a risky prospect of equal or even greater expected value à this is the choice involves gaining.

On the other hand, in decision (ii), the majority of choice in decision is risk taking. The certain loss of money is less acceptable than a fairly low chance to lose nothing à this is the choice involves losing.

We can see that the two decisions are identical, but with different variations in framing, we received inconsistent responses. The question here is that why there is a switch in attitude and decision when there is a shift from risk adverse to risk taking?

From the study, they have concluded that the displeasure associated with losing a sum of money is greater than the pleasure associated with winning the same amount of money. Plus, the response to losses is more extreme compared to the responses to gains. Therefore, with these psychological principles, communicators can influence the choices people make.

Displeasure associated with losing > pleasure associated with winning

However, we should keep in mind that the principle of framing messages and the psychology of choice are useful tools for delivering the key message and it doesn’t necessarily mean that we can use these tools to manipulate people’s thoughts, decisions and actions.  This is when ethical issue kicks in!


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


1 comment so far

  1. rhiandyer on

    The most interesting thing I found about this article was the authors discussion of psychological accounting, because it is something that I do all the time.

    You go to a play that costs $10 entry, but you dropped $10 out of your pocket on the way. Do you still purchase a ticket? (83% of people do)

    You go to a play that costs $10 entry, but you loose the ticket. Do you purchase another ticket (46% of people do)

    If the two events are ‘linked’ as in the second option, we see it as unfair that we had to pay twice for the ticket.

    I have found myself ‘framing’ my own experiences to try to cope with the disappointment of loss.

    Has anyone else ever copped a massive traffic fine on the way to work? My first thoughts are always that the events are linked “damn I am working today for free” as if it was literally deducted out of my paycheck. That makes me really angry about going to work. But to get over it I just think about it as part of the pool of money that flows in and out, effectively unlinking it from the days work ahead. Somehow that helps me get on with my day.

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