This exercise, based on Kahneman and Tversky's classic study, illustrates how the framing effect influences our judgement and our ability to make decisions. The participants are divided into two groups. Both groups are presented with the same problem and two alternative programs for solving them. The two programs both have the same consequences but are presented differently. The debriefing discussion examines how the framing of the program impacted the participant's decision.
Make copies of both versions of the handout. Make approximately one half of the positively framed program and one half of the negatively framed program. Print the first program in blue and the second program in purple (or any two different colors of your choice). This will allow you to differentiate and compare the two programs during the debriefing. Arrange them in a single stack with the two versions alternating.
Distribute the handout. Give one copy of the handout from the combined stack to each participant. Everyone will assume they have the same handout.
Give instructions. Tell the participants that this is an independent activity. Ask them to read through the problem and pick the best program. Wait 2 minutes for the participants to complete this task.
Compare the participant's programs. Ask the participants how many chose the first (blue) program. Ask how many chose the second (purple) program.
Debrief the activity by revealing that you distributed two different versions of the handouts. Point out that the consequences of the programs in blue are the same, and the consequences of the purple in purple are the same. The two groups probably chose opposite programs, because they were framed in different ways.
Explain that studies show that the participants will pick the first program in the positively framed example that emphasizes lives gained, and the second program in the negatively framed example that emphasizes lives lost.
Conduct the remainder of the debriefing discussion by asking these types of questions:
- What other decisions do we make that may be influenced by framing?
- What are some examples of how the framing effect is used to manipulate decision making?
- What can we do to reduce the effects of framing when making a decision?
When presented with parallel options, a decision may be more influenced by the language used (“the framing effect”) than the actual content.