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Framework effect: this is the cognitive bias

Framework effect: this is the cognitive bias

June 24, 2021

In most cases, we are not aware of the effect on our responses or opinions of the way in which the information is presented to us, to the point of choosing options that are not always beneficial but that at first sight do not they are perceived as a loss.

This is what happens with the framework effect, a type of cognitive bias which we will discuss throughout this article. In the same way we will review those factors that exert an influence on him, as well as the causes of this.

  • Related article: "Cognitive biases: discovering an interesting psychological effect"

What is the framework effect?

The framework effect is a psychological phenomenon that belongs to the group of cognitive biases. A cognitive bias refers to an alteration in the mental processing of information that gives rise to an inaccurate or distorted interpretation of reality.


In the specific case of the framework effect, the person tends to offer a response or a particular choice depending on how the way in which the information is presented or in the way the question is asked .

That is, the response or predilection of the subject to the approach of a dilemma will depend on the way in which it is raised, this form being the "framework" of the issue.

When this response or choice is related to losses or gains, people tend to avoid taking risks when the question or question of exposes in a positive way , whereas if it is formulated in a negative way, the subject is more willing to take risks.


This theory points to the idea that any loss, however large, is more meaningful to the person than the equivalent gain. In addition, according to this assumption there are a series of principles that are given when the person must make a choice of this type:

  • An assured gain is favored against a probable gain.
  • A probable loss is preferable to a definitive loss.

The main problem and one of the greatest dangers of the framework effect is that, in most cases, people only receive options in relation to profit or loss , no profit / loss or loss / loss.

This concept helps to facilitate the understanding of the analysis of frameworks within social movements, as well as the formation of political opinions in which the way in which questions are conducted in opinion polls determine the response of the question. In this way, we seek to obtain a beneficial response for the organization or institution that has commissioned the survey.


  • Maybe you're interested: "Horn effect: this is how our negative prejudices act"

The study of Tversky and Kahneman

The best way to understand this framework effect is by reviewing the results of the studies that analyze it. One of the best-known investigations was the one carried out by psychologists from Stanford University, Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman .

In this work we tried to demonstrate how the way in which different phrases and situations are posed determines the response or reaction of the respondents, in this specific case, in relation to a plan for the prevention and eradication of a deadly disease.

The study consisted in the approach of two problems in which different alternatives are provided to save the lives of 600 affected by a supposed disease. The first two possibilities were reflected in the following options:

  • Save the lives of 200 people.
  • Choose an alternative solution in which the probability of saving 600 people is 33% but there is a 66% chance of not saving anyone.

The result in this first problem was that 72% of the people surveyed chose the first alternative, since they perceived the second as too risky. However, this response dynamic changed in the second phase of the study, in which the following choices were made:

  • 400 people die
  • Choose an alternative in which there is a 33% chance that no one will die and a 66% chance that all people will die

In this second case, it was 78% of the participants who chose the second option, since the first option (despite being equivalent to the first problem), was perceived as much more risky.

The explanation is found in the different expressions used . In the first exhibition of the alternatives the election was named positively ("Save the life of 200 people"), while in the second one a negative consequence was stated ("Die 400").

Therefore, although the two options imply the same type of consequence, the transformation of the alternatives caused the respondents to focus more on the benefits or losses.From this point of view, people show an inclination to try to avoid risks when the choice is presented in terms of profit, but prefer them when it comes to choosing an option that involves losses.

What causes this phenomenon?

Although there are no definite and demonstrable causes that justify the appearance of this phenomenon the theorists of cognitive psychology appeal to the imperfection of the reasoning process of people . This defect is defined by the general inability we have to generate multiple alternative formulations of a problem, as well as the consequences of each one of them.

Therefore, the reason that people give in to the framework effect is that in most cases people tend to passively accept the conflicts of choice as they are framed, so they are not aware that when Your choices are conditioned by the framework rather than by your own interests or benefits.


Cognitive Biases, Tribalism and Politics (Part 2 of 3) - Attention, Focus and Exaggeration (June 2021).


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