Not only answers to survey questions, but also important everyday decisions are influenced by how an issue is posed. Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman posed the following problem to their students at Stanford University and at the University of British Columbia:
'Imagine that the U.S. is preparing for the outbreak of an unusual Asian disease, which is expected to kill 600 people. Two alternative programs to combat the disease have been proposed. Assume that the exact scientific estimate of the consequences of the programs are as follows:'
Those given the following two choices favored Program A by 3 to 1:
'If Program A is adopted, 200 people will be saved
If Program B is adopted, there is 1/3 probability that 600 people will be saved, and 2/3 probability that no people will be saved.'
But when the same two choices were stated differently, Program B was favored by 3 to 1:
'If Program A is adopted, 400 people will die.
If Program B is adopted, there is 1/3 probability that nobody will die, and 2/3 probability that 600 people will die.'
How might you respond to the way something is framed - perhaps like those who respond more positively to ground beef described as "75 percent lean" rather than "25 percent fat"? Or like those who prefer a new medical treatment described as having a "50 percent success rate" over one that has a "50 percent failure rate" (Levin et al.,1987, 1988)?
The moral: the way everyday decisions are framed can make a big difference.