A picture looks different and brings out different emotions when framed in a particular way. A child’s picture framed with marker-colored Popsicle sticks brings a nostalgic smile of childhood crafts. The same picture in an obituary brings sadness and hostility the child was killed in a drive-by shooting. Move the picture beside a headline screaming Child Kills 3 Classmates, and anger surfaces. Frames are important to how we judge what we see and hear.
Frames are the stereotypical lenses we use to view our world in terms we understand. Let’s explore another example.
We know body language means something in one context and something different in another. A wink from a friend is conspiratorial. A wink from a perfect stranger is flirting. The same one-eyed blink from someone looking the other way could very well be dust from the construction site across the street.
The Big Picture
Framing helps us break the big picture into smaller vignettes. In the smaller pictures we can see greater detail because we are not distracted by outer portions. Just as reading smaller print requires different focus, our frames zero in on each event based on what we know, believe and need to draw from it.
The rest of the picture is still in tact. Some of the portions we cannot see inside our frame influence what we do see. We can recognize the effect the big picture has on our smaller picture, but our frame supports what we see in the details.
We are viewed through frames. Quaint frames us in terms of the responses we are likely to give and the reactions we will have to certain events. Mate’s frame has more detail in some areas than Quaint’s does, even though they are viewing the same picture. Sometimes, we become what they see in the smaller picture to ease our relationships with them.
Society frames us in a different way. Whether the frame is our religion, politics, job, sexuality, race, ability or gender, society views us as a member of a group and expects our behavior to align with our associates’. These frames help others identify and identify with us. Although it is stereotyping, it does help others understand our behavior by viewing it in context with what they believe to be true of our associations.
You have heard the adage:
Each person frames their facts to maximize their role as (victim, victor, important) while downplaying any portion of the story which detracts from their version. Here the frame supports their story. They present it to you in such a way you will find it plausible and issue (sympathy, charity, endorsement). Their depiction shows you enough of the frame for you to adopt it.
Another player in the same scene will discuss the matter with what may appear to be completely opposite facts. This auditory illusion is based on two factors: perspective and framing. Each person sees themselves as the star of the story. They frame the scenario to support their role and create an emotional response from you.
The member of the audience who tells you the same story later will likely give you the truest frame. This person has no stake in the matter and likely produces the least biased version, which nears, if not nails, the truth.
When we seek answers to questions we are on a quest (hence question) for facts or opinion. Factual questions are pretty straight forward:
- Is it raining?
- What time is the meeting?
- Will this hurt?
Opinion questions require judgment of the person answering. Framing the question produces different answers:
- Is it raining hard?
- Is the meeting too early?
- How much will it hurt?
The questions themselves demonstrate your opinion and lead the answer provider to frame an answer reflective of personal experience. While the answer will be true from the perspective of that frame, it may not be the same as the answer you would provide for the question through your own frame.
We normally do not notice our frames until they become cracked. The picture inside is distorted and does not fit with what we know the big picture to be. When the details inside are not supported by the frame, we change it.
People with superior complex problem-solving abilities view the world through more than one frame before making a decision. Sometimes, they will remove the frame and look at the big picture. Before they decide, they explore which frame makes the choices clearer in terms of risk and benefit.
They will also pose (frame) questions to convince others to see things through their frames. Need an example?¹ Choose one solution.
We are expecting an epidemic which will kill 600 people. We have three plans.
- Plan A: 200 people will be saved
- Plan B: 1/3 probability 600 people will be saved and a 2/3 probability no people will be saved
- Plan C: 400 people will die
Please comment with your plan choice. Can you name a dominant use of framing in our society? Do you or someone close to you look through different frames before you make decisions? Have you ever changed a frame?
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(c) Ann Marie Dwyer 2012
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¹Example comes from the Prospect Theory research of Kahnemann and Tversky, Nobel Prize 2002.
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