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Friday, March 2, 2012

How to frame an issue

How an issue is framed can have significant effects an a viewer's attitudes. For instance, persuasive messages that are presented in a negative or threatening manner have been shown to be more effective at encouraging people to act. An example of this can be seen in energy conservation. If given the choice between portraying energy conservation measures as saving customers $350 a year or resulting in the loss of $350, it might actually be more effective to take the negative route and warn customers that they will lose money if they do not change their energy consumption habits. Such an approach might be more successful because people are loss averse. Experiments with gambling have shown that given the choice in taking a risk with a coin toss, subjects were only willing to take the gamble if the size of the reward from getting a heads was roughly twice as large as the loss from getting a tails.

Another study looked at the effects of threatening messages on environmental attitudes. The conclusions of several energy conservation studies were analyzed and the authors found that if the subjects believed environmental deterioration was imminent and local, they were much more likely to show environmentally responsible behavior. Part of the reason for such an observation might be because “awareness of severe and/or widespread harmful consequences to other people tends to activate the feeling that action should be taken to avert or alleviate the harm.” Such findings give insight into how environmental messages can be framed to have a greater effect.

These findings are a bit counter-intuitive but scaring people and focusing on losses seems to have a stronger effect on behavioral change than focusing on rewards and benefits.


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