30 October 2013

Changing the Feeling Changes Your Mind – Emotional Framing

Earlier I’ve written this post: Changing the Point of View Changes Your Mind on how the framing of a message changes our minds (influences decisions).

The main idea behind the framing of outcomes effect is that we perceive outcomes as gains or losses and what represents a gain or a loss depends on a reference that can be manipulated. The change in decision and in behavior is due to loss aversion – losses loom larger than gains.

There is, however, a different type of framing – Emotional Framing – which doesn't rely only on loss aversion. The main psychological mechanism that powers emotional framing is the affect heuristic.

The very nature of negative emotions is to keep us from harm. Obvious examples are fear and disgust which are negative basic emotions and play an important role in keeping us safe from things that might kill us. Of course this was more the case with our very distant ancestors, but even nowadays it is wise to not stay too close to something that smells disgusting.

Naturally we tend to avoid things that have a negative emotion attached to it.

For example, in the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the expression of friendly fire was used extensively in reports about soldiers who died. The term friendly fire sounds benign and has a low load of negative emotion. Unfortunately the reality is that his very smartly chosen expression stands for we killed our own which you have to admit has a much larger negative emotions baggage.

In the year 2013 another term became very popular at least in the US and Europe: Monetary easing also known as Quantitative easing. This sounds really nice and at first glance I think we could all use some ease on our monetary affairs. Despite its benign sound, this expression stands for Printing Money. Of course, these days’ central banks are not actually printing extra money, but the outcome is exactly the same (e.g. inflation)…

Another area where emotional framing is present is in supermarket promotions, at least the ones in Albert Heijn (the main supermarket chain in The Netherlands). It is quite common to have promotions such as: 2 + 1 (Free) or the second identical item is half price.

If shoppers would actually give some thought to what the underlying message is, they would probably buy fewer items.

2 + 1 (Free) actually means that you get 33.33% discount if and only if you buy three items.

The second one is half price actually means that you get 25% discount if and only if you buy two identical items.

If we would actually think like computers it should make no difference how the message is framed, but we are not reasoning machines.

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