IntroductionFraming I
Framing II
Framing III
Framing IV
Framing V
Framing VI
Framing VII
Framing VIII

The AuthorsSite Map

Three Framed Victims

 One  A college undergraduate who has recently moved into his own apartment, Franklin is wrestling with a decision: he is considering whether or not to purchase a VCR with his limited funds. He now stands before a display of VCRs at the local electronics store, considering the purchase. He thinks, "With a VCR, I can watch high-quality movies instead of the trash on network TV. And, the selection of movies on video is much larger than what's on TV. Plus, movies don't have ads!" Armed with three unassailable reasons, Franklin carries his prize to the cashier's counter.

 Across the street Lisa and Jon are looking over the menus at their favorite restaurant. Jon orders a burger, but Lisa demurs, saying that she is watching her weight. "Don't worry," smiles the waitress. "Our burger's made of hamburger that's 75% lean." Lisa orders the burger, and notices it tastes better than most.  Two

 Three Several blocks away, an encyclopedia salesman is talking to two young parents. He is well into his routine, and has already gotten them to admit that a quality education is of utmost importance to their children's future. He approaches the topic of price with great skill. "Although this investment may seem substantial at first glance," he admits, "with our extended payment plan, this set of encyclopedias will cost you less than 40 cents a day. Why, that's less than a can of soda! Wouldn't you say your children's education is worth more than a daily can of soda?" Having never thought of it in just that way, the young couple decide to purchase the set.

Franklin, Lisa, and the young parents are the latest casualties of the insidious framing device. As subtle as it is powerful, the frame allows a communicator to manipulate choice alternatives in order to influence thinking processes and obtain consent--without ever appearing to attempt to persuade. The target of influence is seldom aware that a particular response has been induced.

Franklin was the victim of his own reframe, the least detectable and perhaps most powerful type of frame. Although he entered the store with the frame of [VCR vs. no VCR], he allowed the frame to slip onto an entirely different topic: [TV vs. Cinema]. Once the decision was reframed, Franklin was unable to generate any reasons for not buying . . . cinema, which is what Franklin really purchased. Franklin might have reframed the purchase decision in other ways, too. He could have considered [VCR vs. new computer], which might have led him to the computer section. And had Franklin reframed the decision as [mindless entertainment vs. productivity] he might have sped out of the store as he hurried home to get busy with something really important. But once Franklin allowed the decision to become one between [TV vs. cinema], the decision was foregone. After all, who in his right mind could argue that TV is better than cinema?

Lisa is the victim of a focus frame. She has been led to focus on the leanness, rather than the fatness, of her burger. Would it have made a difference if Lisa had been told her burger was 25% fat? You bet it would! In fact, researchers Levin & Gaeth (1988) conducted a study using just this frame manipulation. The researchers gave identical samples of ground burger to two groups of tasters in their experiment. The only difference between them was that one group was told the beef was 75% lean, and the second group told it was 25% fat. Those that had been told it was 75% lean rated the beef as significantly more lean, of higher quality, more greaseless, and better tasting than "ordinary" hamburger. Those that had been told it was 25% fat rated the burger as more fatty, lower quality, and more greasy than regular burger. Pity poor Lisa! Framed, by her waitress, into gaining rather than losing weight!

Finally, the young couple fell victim to the contrast frame. The salesman craftily shifted the focus of decision away from the amount the young family could afford to spend. Instead, he focused attention onto the mundaneness and unimportance of a can of soda. Using it as a reference point, he then compared it to the value of . . . not his encyclopedia set, but . . . successfully educated children. He substituted associations for the actual item. I think you will agree: given the frame [can of soda vs. children's education], education will win every time. And out came the checkbook.

These are three of several types of frames that I've identified. But the important questions "What is a frame?" and "How does a frame work?" remain unanswered. Please continue . . .

Copyright © 1997 by Kelton Rhoads, Ph.D.
All rights reserved.

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