Chong and Druckman, in the context of media and communications, claim that framing takes two principal formats – equivalency and emphasis frames. Equivalency frames refer to statements which are logically equivalent, but phrased differently. Thus, the phrasing causes individuals to alter their preferences.

With emphasis frames, people make different judgements depending on which aspect of a statement was intentionally emphasised by the researchers.

In psychology – and extended to economics – the impact of different phrasing of statement of identical semantics has been studied by Kahneman and Tversky (1981). They illustrate how decision problems can be framed in multiple ways that give rise to different preferences, contrary to the invariance criterion of rational choice. This means that preferences can be altered, and decision-makers can be led into a solution which may be considered more desirable by the person manipulating the frame.

The experiment carried by Kahneman and Tversky consisted of two groups of people. Both groups were presented with the following situation:

Imagine that the U.S. 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 the exact scientific estimate of the consequences of the programs are as follows:

  • The first group was given a choice between two programs, A and B.

Based on their choice, this means that in a group of 600 people:
– Program A: “200 people will be saved”
– Program B: “there is a 1/3 probability that 600 people will be saved, and a 2/3 probability that no people will be saved”

Participants preferred program A (72%) to program B (28%).

  • The second group was given a choice between two programs, C and D.

Based on their choice, this means that in a group of 600 people:
– Program C: “400 people will die”
– Program D: “there is a 1/3 probability that nobody will die, and a 2/3 probability that 600 people will die”

Participants preferred program D (78%) to program C (22%).

Note that:

  • Programs A and B are logically and mathematically identical. Programs C and D are also logically and mathematically identical. Hence the choice is only illusory.
  • Programs A and C are similarly framed as secure outcome (saved vs. dead), and that programs B and D are also similarly framed as ambiguous/insecure outcome (probability).

Clearly, there is a preference reversal when the decision is presented in terms of saving lives (group 1) as opposed to when the decision is presented in terms of expected deaths (group 2).

Equivalence and emphasis frames are a key component in NTCenter’s conceptual model and practical kits for understanding and designing working solutions to the educational implications of misinformation and disinformation.

Summary presentations of the other components of this model can be found here:

Frames as Thinking Contexts | System Causality | Motivated Cognition