Walking home with a ravishing print you just bought from the Sunday market, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? For me, it’s always about finding out its dimensions and ordering a nice frame so I can pin it up in the living room immediately. Now, all your wonderful marketing messages need to be framed as well.
Framing comes in different forms, such as value framing (read more: Numbers about risks are risking our health), visual framing (read more: That COVID virus you've seen printed everywhere could put people off the vaccination.) There is also positive and negative framing - the manner in which information is presented. Positive framing is also called gain framing, which stresses the benefits of a behaviour; whereas negative framing is also called loss framing, which stresses the potential loss of not adopting a behaviour.
In one study, participants were provided £50 for their participation and were asked if they would like to have the sure or gamble option in the following two frames, A: keep £20 of the £50 - the Gain frame, and B: lose £30 of the £50 - the Loss frame. The gamble option was shown identically as a pie chart with the probability of keeping or losing all for both frames. Those who were in the Gain frame are more likely to choose the sure option while those in the Loss frame prefer the gamble option. These results are in line with the Prospect Theory where individuals are likely to go for a more risk-averse option when presented the Gain frame while those that were presented with the Loss frame are more likely to opt for risk-seeking behaviours (4).
'The Prospect theory is also helpful when determining the framing approaches for different health behaviours. Gain-framed messages are more persuasive when behaviours lead to a relatively certain outcome, and loss-framed messages work better if behaviours result in an uncertain outcome. As such, gain-framed messages may be more effective for promoting preventive health behaviours such as exercise and sunscreen use, which maintain health and minimise the risk of a health problem. Loss-framed messages may more effectively promote detection behaviours, due to the psychological and financial costs of potentially finding a health problem.
It seems that, when you want people to stop doing something, make them aware of the negative consequences and when you want people to start doing something, promote the benefits or rewards. Problems solved! However, one review collated evidence from 35 studies and concluded that framing has little to no consistent effect on health consumers’ behaviours with a vast degree of unexplained heterogeneity. My next piece is going to focus on other complex and nuanced models that have been proposed to reconcile conflicting findings on framing effects in various settings.