Different depictions of the same decision outcome result in different choices.

Tversky and Kahneman’s (1981) seminal experiment, which varied the framing of epidemic outcomes, demonstrated that presenting an equivalent problem in two different ways can produce different results.

  • Positive framing, or value-increasing choices (i.e. with options presented as sure gains and losses), result in people making less risky choices.
  • Negative framing, or value-decreasing choices (i.e. with options presented as the likelihood or probability of gains and losses), result in riskier choices.

In general, framing is a useful tool for addressing problems like the gambler’s fallacy and over-inference, which result from our poor ability to estimate probabilities, or separate belief from fact.

Where framing causes individuals to make suboptimal choices, a simple change in the frame can serve as an intervention. For example, discussion of the risks of treatment or care options is common in the practice of medicine and health promotion. Yet presentations of risks can influence patients to select particular care options or behaviors (Edwards et al., 2001). An area for further research is the testing of different framings for reproductive decisions, which might reduce the communication gap between clients and providers, mitigate the negative effects of provider biases, and ultimately help girls and women achieve better reproductive health outcomes.

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