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Framing Effects

Memory and Illusions    Information Processing     Prospect Theory    Fuzzy-trace theory   Discussion

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Most researchers agree that the reversal of choice due to the way a question is framed could lead to serious discrepancies.  These types of discrepancies, if existed, could lead to faulty research conclusions.  Therefore, research on framing effects has continued to be conducted on a variety of situational tasks, and on different populations.  I have provided a short scene from Alice and Wonderland to demonstrate aspects of framing effects.

If you remember the story of Alice in Wonderland then you may remember that at the beginning of the story Alice was chasing a white rabbit dressed in an English morning suit and carrying a pocket watch.  The white rabbit ran away from Alice with his watch grasped in his paws while he yelled, “I’m late, I’m late.” The white rabbit ran through a door, and disappeared.  Alice attempted to open the door that the white rabbit ran through, but failed because it was locked.  The doorknob spoke to Alice and told her that she was too big to pass through the doorway.  It told her to drink from the bottle on the table beside her.  Alice drank from the bottle as instructed, but drank too much of the liquid and shrank down to three times less her original size.  She was the correct size to fit through the doorway, but had forgotten the key to open the door on the table, and had become too small to reach the key.  The doorknob suggested to her that if she ate the food on the floor beside her then she could increase back to her original size so that she could reach the key.  Alice ate too much of the food and increased to three times larger than her original size.  At this point, Alice was able to retrieve the key from the top of the table, but was much too large to fit through the doorway.  She became very discouraged and did not pass through the doorway.  Later, Alice met a caterpillar.  The following is a brief sample of their conversation.
Who are you?


I…I hardly know, Sir, at present…at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then. 

from, Alice in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll (1974).

Alice quickly became upset with the caterpillar during the scene from which the quote above was solicited.  The caterpillar asked Alice numerous puzzling questions, making Alice very confused.  Her answers back to the caterpillar were not “quite right” because her words were mixed-up and rearranged.  She became frustrated with his questions because he only provided partial information and expected her to offer a precise response.

We can use the story of Alice in Wonderland as an analogy to understanding framing effects.  Memory, illusions of memory, and the way individuals process information play pivotal roles when investigating the reasons behind decision frames.  In the first scene of the Alice in Wonderland story, I mentioned how Alice wanted to find the white rabbit but she was not able to fit through the door when she was at her original size.  The explicit goal then, was to pass through the door to the other side where she could find the white rabbit.  To fulfill this goal, she drank liquid from a bottle (limited resource #1) and shrunk down to three times smaller than her original size, and then had to eat some food (limited resource #2) to grow larger to get the key off the table.  Her original objective of getting through the door did not change, but her size changed from small to large.  Due to Alice’s newly obtained stature she could not fulfill her objective goal. The goal did not change, but the way in which she perceived the goal had changed depending on her size.  Alice worked with the only physical resources she had (liquid and food) and attempted to apply these resources in a rational manner to compare alternative options in order to achieve her objective goal.  Unfortunately, her objective goal was not achieved, because she became frustrated with the task at hand. Something went wrong during the decision making process!

In the second scene I mentioned above, Alice had a troubled conversation with the caterpillar.  This scene can provide a further example of the complexities of processing information.  When Alice spoke with the caterpillar, she could not understand his questions to provide an adequate response, because he did not provide her with enough information.   Further to this, the caterpillar asked questions of Alice that involved her memory.  She had trouble remembering many of the events that took place during the day and could not recall whether these events had actually happened to her or were false recollections or illusions of memory.

After reviewing many different articles investigating framing effects, I believe that we must incorporate theories of memory and information processing into our understanding of the effects of framing.  Only after integrating these theories with their strengths, in consideration of their weaknesses, will we be able to adequately investigate the reasons behind framing effects – when they occur, why they occur, when they do not occur, and why they do not occur.  I do not intend this web site to be an exhaustive interpretation of these theories presented.  Rather, the goals and strategies of various approaches to understanding reasons for framing effects will be examined, with an emphasis on the strengths and weaknesses of each of them.