How the Frame Influences the Painting—Framing Effect {Bias Day 17}

What is the framing effect?

The framing effect is when our decisions vary because of the way information is presented to us (the frame), rather than the face value of the information itself (the painting).

Depending on the wording (framing), we draw different conclusions. We lean toward’s options that are framed positively (lives saved verses lives lost), and options that contain higher numbers versus lower numbers (95% fat-free versus 5% fat).

How the frame influences the painting - Framing Effect

Here’s an example of the framing effect.

Remember Tom Sawyer tricking his friends to whitewash the fence? He was using the framing effect, convincing his friends it was a privilege to do the job.

Here’s a relevant example I saw. Say you’re presented with two identical containers of disinfectant wipes with their accompanying advertising.

  • Type A: “Kills 95% of all germs”
  • Type B: “Only 5% of germs survive”

You’re more likely to choose Type A than Type B because it is presented in a positive frame instead of a negative frame.

Another common example is a medical scenario. If you’re diagnosed with a terminal illness, which doctor will you choose?

  • Doctor A: “You have a 10% chance of dying from surgery.”
  • Doctor B: “You have a 90% chance of surviving surgery.”

Most people say they’d choose Doctor B, even though the odds are exactly the same with both doctors.

Why do we fall for the framing effect?

The framing effect is one of the largest biases we have when we make decisions. And it often increases with age, with the elderly more prone to make decisions based on presentation of the facts instead of on the facts themselves.

We’re biased toward gains instead of losses. Options framed in a positive light are more likely chosen. 

“A loss is perceived as more significant, and therefore more worthy of avoiding, than an equivalent gain.”

Also, as with all biases, when given the option, our brain will take the shortcut. It opts for information that is most easily understood. 

Research also says that framing leans on emotional responses. A charismatic political candidate can often get more votes despite having bad policies, than a boring candidate with better policies. We prefer the positive frame.

Why do we need to watch out for the framing effect?

The framing effect can be used either positively or negatively in influencing our choices. If a bad option is framed positively, we may choose it, if we don’t take measures to counter the framing effect.

We can be duped into overvaluing poor information simply because it is presented more clearly and is more understandable.

A great presentation can influence us more than the information itself because we see only what it wants us to see.

“Think about the metaphor behind the concept. A frame focuses attention on the painting it surrounds. Putting a painting in a red frame brings out the red in the work; putting the same painting in a blue frame brings out the blue.”

How can we guard against the framing effect?

Learn more about the issues and use critical thinking. Studies show that those more involved with an issue suffer less from framing effects around it, and make better informed decisions.

Take the opposite approach. If a message is framed negatively, put it into a positive frame for evaluation. If it’s framed positively, put it into a negative frame before deciding.

Get different perspectives. Ask others for their point of view. Encourage them to play devil’s advocate with you. Seek information from a variety of sources.

Look at the numbers. Even though statistics themselves can be framed in a variety of ways, look for the baseline numbers that answer the questions you’re asking.

How did Jesus see the framing effect?

Jesus presented the kingdom of heaven in upside down frame. The first will be last; to become a leader, be a servant; lose your life to find it; bless those who curse you.

Because he used a different perspective than they were expecting, his message was unsettling. They had to move past the packaging of a regular human being to hear the Son of God’s message.

Jesus shook their frame. 

But for those truly interested, his message caused them to really think. He actually encouraged them to do so, to thoroughly think it through. No man who puts his hand to the plow without counting the cost was fit for the kingdom.

And those who truly heard became true followers. He promised them escape from destruction and salvation eternally. It became an offer they couldn’t refuse.

May we truly listen for the truth as well. And accept the truth we hear, however it is framed.


How have ever made a purchase based on the framing effect? Please share in the comments.

You are on Day 17 of the series: “How to Uncover Hidden Biases.”

Uncover Hidden Biases

Previous: Declinism {Bias Day 16}
“Are Things Really Worse Now?”

Next: Contact Bias {Bias Day 18}
“When You Don’t Know the Other”

9 thoughts on “How the Frame Influences the Painting—Framing Effect {Bias Day 17}

  1. blankJean Wise

    I use framing all the time. Helps me stay optimistic. But I have seen the negative side too and am learning when I rationalie or reframe instead of seeing the truth or take the time to really deal with the circumstance. Hard to do at times.

  2. blankLois Flowers

    I think I’ve said this before about these posts you’ve been writing, Lisa, but this is fascinating! Not to mention, it makes so much sense. It’s all about feelings, isn’t it? We “feel” better when the high percentages are highlighted, even when highlighting the lower number is just a different way of presenting the same info. Given how feelings-based our culture is these days, this is definitely giving me something to think about today.

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