What a speaker's choice of frame reveals: reference points, frame selection, and framing effects

Psychon Bull Rev. 2003 Sep;10(3):596-602. doi: 10.3758/bf03196520.


Framing effects are well established: Listeners' preferences depend on how outcomes are described to them, or framed. Less well understood is what determines how speakers choose frames. Two experiments revealed that reference points systematically influenced speakers' choices between logically equivalent frames. For example, speakers tended to describe a 4-ounce cup filled to the 2-ounce line as half full if it was previously empty but described it as half empty if it was previously full. Similar results were found when speakers could describe the outcome of a medical treatment in terms of either mortality or survival (e.g., 25% die vs. 75% survive). Two additional experiments showed that listeners made accurate inferences about speakers' reference points on the basis of the selected frame (e.g., if a speaker described a cup as half empty, listeners inferred that the cup used to be full). Taken together, the data suggest that frames reliably convey implicit information in addition to their explicit content, which helps explain why framing effects are so robust.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Choice Behavior*
  • Decision Making*
  • Humans
  • Speech*