Framing effects and risk-sensitive decision making

Br J Psychol. 2012 Feb;103(1):83-97. doi: 10.1111/j.2044-8295.2011.02047.x. Epub 2011 Jun 15.


Prospect theory suggests that people are risk-averse when facing gains, but risk-prone when facing losses, a pattern known as the framing effect. Although framing effects have been widely demonstrated, few studies have investigated framing effects under conditions of need. Risk-sensitivity theory predicts that decision makers should prefer high-risk options in situations of high need, when lower risk options are unlikely to meet those needs. In two experiments, we examined (1) whether framing effects occurred in behavioural tasks involving risky decision making from description and decision making from experience, (2) whether participants' risky decision making conformed to the predictions of risk-sensitivity theory, and (3) whether decision framing interacted with conditions of need to influence decision making under risk. The results suggest that under all circumstances, risky decision making conformed to the predictions of risk-sensitivity theory. Framing effects were at least partially demonstrable under all experimental conditions. Finally, negative frames interacted with situations of high need to produce particularly elevated levels of risky choice. Together, the results suggest that risk-sensitivity theory can augment prospect theory to explain choice under conditions of need.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Choice Behavior / physiology
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motivation / physiology*
  • Psychological Tests
  • Risk-Taking*
  • Young Adult