Framing is a powerful tool for making communication more persuasive and influential and one that has evolved over the years as psychologists have classified various different types; an understanding of these developments can help marketers use framing more effectively.

In the latest instalment of their ongoing New frontiers in behavioural science series, Crawford Hollingworth and Liz Barker of The Behavioural Architects explain in The expanding ‘framing toolbox’ how “perceptions, judgements, decisions and behaviours can all change depending on how information is presented to us, particularly regarding whether positive or negative information is drawn to our attention”.

Over the past 40 years, behavioural scientists have progressively identified a number of different types of framing effects – gain and loss framing, goal and attribute framing, natural frequencies and number frames – demonstrating how the concept has been building in depth and nuance.

Daniel Kahneman, the author of Thinking, Fast and Slow, summarises the idea neatly in the following quote: “An investment said to have an 80% chance of success sounds far more attractive than one with a 20% chance of failure. The mind can’t easily recognise that they are the same.”

Nor does the mind necessarily see 20% and two in ten the same way. “There’s a surprisingly big difference between how we react to probabilities expressed as percentages and how we respond to odds expressed as frequencies,” the authors note.

“Percentages are abstract and hard to imagine, meaning people often make perceptual mistakes in interpreting percentages. Natural frequencies, on the other hand, are much easier to imagine, particularly for less numerate people.”

That’s because if a person is told they have a one in five chance of winning, they can actually visualise a person; Hollingworth and Barker suggest framing a piece of information as a natural frequency could mean people overweight it and see the benefits (or losses) as larger than they actually are.

A similar outcome is apparent when framing risk and whether one chooses to show this in absolute or relative terms – something that journalists and politicians appreciate.

Thus, if a medication reduces the mortality rate from 20% to 15%, then the absolute reduction is a modest five percentage points, yet the relative reduction in risk is 25%. Studies show that in general, people are more strongly persuaded by the change in relative risk because it seems larger.

Read all of the articles in the New frontiers in behavioural science here.

Sourced from WARC