Framing (social sciences)
In the social sciences, framing comprises a set of concepts and theoretical perspectives on how individuals, groups, and societies, organize, perceive, and communicate about reality. Framing involves social construction of a social phenomenon – by mass media sources, political or social movements, political leaders, or other actors and organizations. Participation in a language community necessarily influences an individual's perception of the meanings attributed to words or phrases. Politically, the language communities of advertising, religion, and mass media are highly contested, whereas framing in less-sharply defended language communities might evolve imperceptibly and organically over cultural time frames, with fewer overt modes of disputation.
Framing itself can be framed in one of two ways, depending on whether one chooses to emphasise processes of thought or processes of interpersonal communication. Frames in thought consist of the mental representations, interpretations, and simplifications of reality. Frames in communication consist of the communication of frames between different actors.
One can view framing in communication as positive or negative – depending on the audience and what kind of information is being presented. Framing might also be understood as being either equivalence frames, which represent logically equivalent alternatives portrayed in different ways (see framing effect) or as emphasis frames, which simplify reality by focusing on a subset of relevant aspects of a situation or issue. In the case of "equivalence frames", the information being presented is based on the same facts, but the "frame" in which it is presented changes, thus creating a reference-dependent perception.
The effects of framing can be seen in many journalism applications. With the same information being used as a base, the "frame" surrounding the issue can change the reader's perception without having to alter the actual facts. In the context of politics or mass-media communication, a frame defines the packaging of an element of rhetoric in such a way as to encourage certain interpretations and to discourage others. For political purposes, framing often presents facts in such a way that implicates a problem that is in need of a solution. Members of political parties attempt to frame issues in a way that makes a solution favoring their own political leaning appear as the most appropriate course of action for the situation at hand.
In social theory, framing is a schema of interpretation, a collection of anecdotes and stereotypes, that individuals rely on to understand and respond to events. In other words, people build a series of mental "filters" through biological and cultural influences. They then use these filters to make sense of the world. The choices they then make are influenced by their creation of a frame.
Framing is also a key component of sociology, the study of social interaction among humans. Framing is an integral part of conveying and processing data on a daily basis. Successful framing techniques can be used to reduce the ambiguity of intangible topics by contextualizing the information in such a way that recipients can connect to what they already know.
When one seeks to explain an event, the understanding often depends on the frame referred to. If a friend rapidly closes and opens an eye, we will respond very differently depending on whether we attribute this to a purely "physical" frame (they blinked) or to a social frame (they winked).
Though the former might result from a speck of dust (resulting in an involuntary and not particularly meaningful reaction), the latter would imply a voluntary and meaningful action (to convey humor to an accomplice, for example). Observers will read events seen as purely physical or within a frame of "nature" differently from those seen as occurring with social frames. But we do not look at an event and then "apply" a frame to it. Rather, individuals constantly project into the world around them the interpretive frames that allow them to make sense of it; we only shift frames (or realize that we have habitually applied a frame) when incongruity calls for a frame-shift. In other words, we only become aware of the frames that we always already use when something forces us to replace one frame with another.
Framing is so effective because it is a heuristic, or mental shortcut that may not always yield desired results; and is seen as a 'rule of thumb'. According to Susan T. Fiske and Shelley E. Taylor, human beings are by nature "cognitive misers", meaning they prefer to do as little thinking as possible. Frames provide people a quick and easy way to process information. Hence, people will use the previously mentioned mental filters (a series of which is called a schema) to make sense of incoming messages. This gives the sender and framer of the information enormous power to use these schemas to influence how the receivers will interpret the message.
Though some consider framing to be synonymous with agenda setting, other scholars state that there is a distinction. According to an article written by Donald H. Weaver, framing selects certain aspects of an issue and makes them more prominent in order to elicit certain interpretations and evaluations of the issue, whereas agenda setting introduces the issue topic to increase its salience and accessibility.
Framing effect in communication research
In the field of communication, framing defines how news media coverage shapes mass opinion. Richard E. Vatz's discourse on creation of rhetorical meaning relates directly to framing, although he references it little. To be specific, framing effects refer to behavioral or attitudinal strategies and/or outcomes that are due to how a given piece of information is being framed in public discourse. Today, many volumes of the major communication journals contain papers on media frames and framing effects. Approaches used in such papers can be broadly classified into two groups: studies of framing as the dependent variable and studies of framing as the independent variable. The former usually deals with frame building (i.e. how frames create societal discourse about an issue and how different frames are adopted by journalists) and latter concerns frame setting (i.e. how media framing influences an audience).
Frame building is related to at least three areas: journalist norms, political actors, and cultural situations. It assumes that several media frames compete to set one frame regarding an issue, and one frame finally gains influence because it resonates with popular culture, fits with media practices, or is heavily sponsored by elites. First, in terms of practices of news production, there are at least five aspects of news work that may influence how journalists frame a certain issue: larger societal norms and values, organizational pressures and constraints, external pressures from interest groups and other policy makers, professional routines, and ideological or political orientations of journalists. The second potential influence on frame building comes from elites, including interest groups, government bureaucracies, and other political or corporate actors. Empirical studies show that these influences of elites seem to be strongest for issues in which journalists and various players in the policy arena can find shared narratives. Finally, cultural contexts of a society are also able to establish frame. Goffman assumes that the meaning of a frame has implicit cultural roots. This context dependency of media frame has been described as 'cultural resonance' or 'narrative fidelity'.
When people are exposed to a novel news frame, they will accept the constructs made applicable to an issue, but they are significantly more likely to do so when they have existing schema for those constructs. This is called the applicability effect. That is, when new frames invite people to apply their existing schema to an issue, the implication of that application depends, in part, on what is in that schema. Therefore, generally, the more the audiences know about issues, the more effective are frames.
There are a number of levels and types of framing effects that have been examined. For example, scholars have focused on attitudinal and behavioral changes, the degrees of perceived importance of the issue, voting decisions, and opinion formations. Others are interested in psychological processes other than applicability. For instance, Iyengar suggested that news about social problems can influence attributions of causal and treatment responsibility, an effect observed in both cognitive responses and evaluations of political leaders, or other scholars looked at the framing effects on receivers' evaluative processing style and the complexity of audience members' thoughts about issues.
In mass communication research
News media frame all news items by emphasizing specific values, facts, and other considerations, and endowing them with greater apparent applicability for making related judgments. News media promotes particular definitions, interpretations, evaluations and recommendations.
Foundations in mass communication research
Anthropologist Gregory Bateson first articulated the concept of framing in his 1972 book Steps to an Ecology of Mind. A frame, Bateson wrote, is "a spatial and temporal bounding of a set of interactive messages."
Sociological roots of media framing research
Media framing research has both sociological and psychological roots. Sociological framing focuses on "the words, images, phrases, and presentation styles" that communicators use when relaying information to recipients. Research on frames in sociologically driven media research generally examines the influence of "social norms and values, organizational pressures and constraints, pressures of interest groups, journalistic routines, and ideological or political orientations of journalists" on the existence of frames in media content.
Todd Gitlin, in his analysis of how the news media trivialized the student New Left movement during the 1960s, was among the first to examine media frames from a sociological perspective. Frames, Gitlin wrote, are "persistent patterns of cognition, interpretations, and presentation, of selection [and] emphasis ... [that are] largely unspoken and unacknowledged ... [and] organize the world for both journalists [and] for those of us who read their reports."
Psychological roots of media framing research
Research on frames in psychologically driven media research generally examines the effects of media frames on those who receive them. For example, Iyengar explored the impact of episodic and thematic news frames on viewers' attributions of responsibility for political issues including crime, terrorism, poverty, unemployment, and racial inequality. According to Iyengar, an episodic news frame "takes the form of a case study or event-oriented report and depicts public issues in terms of concrete instances," while a thematic news frame "places public issues in some more general abstract context ... directed at general outcomes or conditions." Iyengar found that the majority of television news coverage of poverty, for example, was episodic. In fact, in a content analysis of six years of television news, Iyengar found that the typical news viewer would have been twice as likely to encounter episodic rather than thematic television news about poverty. Further, experimental results indicate participants who watched episodic news coverage of poverty were more than twice as likely as those who watched thematic news coverage of poverty to attribute responsibility of poverty to the poor themselves rather than society. Given the predominance of episodic framing of poverty, Iyengar argues that television news shifts responsibility of poverty from government and society to the poor themselves. After examining content analysis and experimental data on poverty and other political issues, Iyengar concludes that episodic news frames divert citizens' attributions of political responsibility away from society and political elites, making them less likely to support government efforts to address those issue and obscuring the connections between those issues and their elected officials' actions or lack thereof.
Clarifying and distinguishing a "fractured paradigm"
Perhaps because of their use across the social sciences, frames have been defined and used in many disparate ways. Entman called framing "a scattered conceptualization" and "a fractured paradigm" that "is often defined casually, with much left to an assumed tacit understanding of the reader." In an effort to provide more conceptual clarity, Entman suggested that frames "select some aspects of a perceived reality and make them more salient in a communicating text, in such a way as to promote a particular problem definition, causal interpretation, moral evaluation, and/or treatment recommendation for the item described."
Entman's conceptualization of framing, which suggests frames work by elevating particular pieces of information in salience, is in line with much early research on the psychological underpinnings of framing effects (see also Iyengar, who argues that accessibility is the primary psychological explanation for the existence of framing effects). Wyer and Srull explain the construct of accessibility thus:
- People store related pieces of information in "referent bins" in their long-term memory.
- People organize "referent bins" such that more frequently and recently used pieces of information are stored at the top of the bins and are therefore more accessible.
- Because people tend to retrieve only a small portion of information from long-term memory when making judgments, they tend to retrieve the most accessible pieces of information to use for making those judgments.
The argument supporting accessibility as the psychological process underlying framing can therefore be summarized thus: Because people rely heavily on news media for public affairs information, the most accessible information about public affairs often comes from the public affairs news they consume. The argument supporting accessibility as the psychological process underlying framing has also been cited as support in the debate over whether framing should be subsumed by agenda-setting theory as part of the second level of agenda setting. McCombs and other agenda-setting scholars generally agree that framing should be incorporated, along with priming, under the umbrella of agenda setting as a complex model of media effects linking media production, content, and audience effects. Indeed, McCombs, Llamas, Lopez-Escobar, and Rey justified their attempt to combine framing and agenda-setting research on the assumption of parsimony.
Scheufele, however, argues that, unlike agenda setting and priming, framing does not rely primarily on accessibility, making it inappropriate to combine framing with agenda setting and priming for the sake of parsimony. Empirical evidence seems to vindicate Scheufele's claim. For example, Nelson, Clawson, and Oxley empirically demonstrated that applicability, rather than their salience, is key. By operationalizing accessibility as the response latency of respondent answers where more accessible information results in faster response times, Nelson, Clawson, and Oxley demonstrated that accessibility accounted for only a minor proportion of the variance in framing effects while applicability accounted for the major proportion of variance. Therefore, according to Nelson and colleagues, "frames influence opinions by stressing specific values, facts, and other considerations, endowing them with greater apparent relevance to the issue than they might appear to have under an alternative frame."
In other words, while early research suggested that by highlighting particular aspects of issues, frames make certain considerations more accessible and therefore more likely to be used in the judgment process, more recent research suggests that frames work by making particular considerations more applicable and therefore more relevant to the judgment process.
Equivalency versus emphasis: two types of frames in media research
Chong and Druckman suggest framing research has mainly focused on two types of frames: equivalency and emphasis frames. Equivalency frames offer "different, but logically equivalent phrases," which cause individuals to alter their preferences. Equivalency frames are often worded in terms of "gains" versus "losses." For example, Kahneman and Tversky asked participants to choose between two "gain-framed" policy responses to a hypothetical disease outbreak expected to kill 600 people. Response A would save 200 people while Response B had a one-third probability of saving everyone, but a two-thirds probability of saving no one. Participants overwhelmingly chose Response A, which they perceived as the less risky option. Kahneman and Tversky asked other participants to choose between two equivalent "loss-framed" policy responses to the same disease outbreak. In this condition, Response A would kill 400 people while Response B had a one-third probability of killing no one but a two-thirds probability of killing everyone. Although these options are mathematically identical to those given in the "gain-framed" condition, participants overwhelmingly chose Response B, the risky option. Kahneman and Tversky, then, demonstrated that when phrased in terms of potential gains, people tend to choose what they perceive as the less risky option (i.e., the sure gain). Conversely, when faced with a potential loss, people tend to choose the riskier option.
Unlike equivalency frames, emphasis frames offer "qualitatively different yet potentially relevant considerations" which individuals use to make judgments. For example, Nelson, Clawson, and Oxley exposed participants to a news story that presented the Ku Klux Klan's plan to hold a rally. Participants in one condition read a news story that framed the issue in terms of public safety concerns while participants in the other condition read a news story that framed the issue in terms of free speech considerations. Participants exposed to the public safety condition considered public safety applicable for deciding whether the Klan should be allowed to hold a rally and, as expected, expressed lower tolerance of the Klan's right to hold a rally. Participants exposed to the free speech condition, however, considered free speech applicable for deciding whether the Klan should be allowed to hold a rally and, as expected, expressed greater tolerance of the Klan's right to hold a rally.
Framing effect in psychology and economics
Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman have shown that framing can affect the outcome (i.e. the choices one makes) of choice problems, to the extent that several of the classic axioms of rational choice do not hold. This led to the development of prospect theory as an alternative to rational choice theory.
The context or framing of problems adopted by decision-makers results in part from extrinsic manipulation of the decision-options offered, as well as from forces intrinsic to decision-makers, e.g., their norms, habits, and unique temperament.
Tversky and Kahneman (1981) demonstrated systematic reversals of preference when the same problem is presented in different ways, for example in the Asian disease problem. Participants were asked to "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 the exact scientific estimate of the consequences of the programs are as follows."
The first group of participants was presented with a choice between programs: In a group of 600 people,
- Program A: "200 people will be saved"
- Program B: "there is a 1/3 probability that 600 people will be saved, and a 2/3 probability that no people will be saved"
72 percent of participants preferred program A (the remainder, 28%, opting for program B).
The second group of participants was presented with the choice between the following: In a group of 600 people,
- Program C: "400 people will die"
- Program D: "there is a 1/3 probability that nobody will die, and a 2/3 probability that 600 people will die"
In this decision frame, 78% preferred program D, with the remaining 22% opting for program C.
Programs A and C are identical, as are programs B and D. The change in the decision frame between the two groups of participants produced a preference reversal: when the programs were presented in terms of lives saved, the participants preferred the secure program, A (= C). When the programs were presented in terms of expected deaths, participants chose the gamble D (= B).
Absolute and relative influences
Framing effects arise because one can frequently frame a decision using multiple scenarios, wherein one may express benefits either as a relative risk reduction (RRR), or as absolute risk reduction (ARR). Extrinsic control over the cognitive distinctions (between risk tolerance and reward anticipation) adopted by decision makers can occur through altering the presentation of relative risks and absolute benefits.
People generally prefer the absolute certainty inherent in a positive framing-effect, which offers an assurance of gains. When decision-options appear framed as a likely gain, risk-averse choices predominate.
A shift toward risk-seeking behavior occurs when a decision-maker frames decisions in negative terms, or adopts a negative framing effect.
Researchers have found that framing decision-problems in a positive light generally results in less-risky choices; with negative framing of problems, riskier choices tend to result. According to behavioral economists:
- positive framing effects (associated with risk aversion) result from presentation of options as sure (or absolute) gains
- negative framing effects (associated with a preference shift toward choosing riskier options) result from options presented as the relative likelihood of losses
Researchers have found that framing-manipulation invariably affects subjects, but to varying degrees. Individuals proved risk averse when presented with value-increasing options; but when faced with value decreasing contingencies, they tended towards increased risk-taking. Researchers found that variations in decision-framing achieved by manipulating the options to represent either a gain or as a loss altered the risk-aversion preferences of decision-makers.
In one study, 57% of the subjects chose a medication when presented with benefits in relative terms, whereas only 14.7% chose a medication whose benefit appeared in absolute terms. Further questioning of the patients suggested that, because the subjects ignored the underlying risk of disease, they perceived benefits as greater when expressed in relative terms.
- cognitive theories, such as the fuzzy-trace theory, attempt to explain the framing-effect by determining the amount of cognitive processing effort devoted to determining the value of potential gains and losses.
- prospect theory explains the framing-effect in functional terms, determined by preferences for differing perceived values, based on the assumption that people give a greater weighting to losses than to equivalent gains.
- motivational theories explain the framing-effect in terms of hedonic forces affecting individuals, such as fears and wishes—based on the notion that negative emotions evoked by potential losses usually out-weigh the emotions evoked by hypothetical gains.
- cognitive cost-benefit trade-off theory defines choice as a compromise between desires, either as a preference for a correct decision or a preference for minimized cognitive effort. This model, which dovetails elements of cognitive and motivational theories, postulates that calculating the value of a sure gain takes much less cognitive effort than that required to select a risky gain.
Cognitive neuroscientists have linked the framing-effect to neural activity in the amygdala, and have identified another brain-region, the orbital and medial prefrontal cortex (OMPFC), that appears to moderate the role of emotion on decisions. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to monitor brain-activity during a financial decision-making task, they observed greater activity in the OMPFC of those research subjects less susceptible to the framing-effect.
Framing theory and frame analysis in sociology
Framing theory and frame analysis provide a broad theoretical approach that analysts have used in communication studies, news (Johnson-Cartee, 1995), politics, and social movements (among other applications).
According to some sociologists, the "social construction of collective action frames" involves "public discourse, that is, the interface of media discourse and interpersonal interaction; persuasive communication during mobilization campaigns by movement organizations, their opponents and countermovement organizations; and consciousness raising during episodes of collective action."
Word-selection or diction has been a component of rhetoric since time immemorial. But most commentators attribute the concept of framing to the work of Erving Goffman on frame analysis and point especially to his 1974 book, Frame analysis: An essay on the organization of experience. Goffman used the idea of frames to label "schemata of interpretation" that allow individuals or groups "to locate, perceive, identify, and label" events and occurrences, thus rendering meaning, organizing experiences, and guiding actions. Goffman's framing concept evolved out of his 1959 work, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, a commentary on the management of impressions. These works arguably depend on Kenneth Boulding's concept of image.
Sociologists have utilized framing to explain the process of social movements. Movements act as carriers of beliefs and ideologies (compare memes). In addition, they operate as part of the process of constructing meaning for participants and opposers (Snow & Benford, 1988). Sociologists deem the mobilization of mass-movements "successful" when the frames projected align with the frames of participants to produce resonance between the two parties. Researchers of framing speak of this process as frame re-alignment.
Snow and Benford (1988) regard frame-alignment as an important element in social mobilization or movement. They argue that when individual frames become linked in congruency and complementariness, "frame alignment" occurs, producing "frame resonance", a catalyst in the process of a group making the transition from one frame to another (although not all framing efforts prove successful). The conditions that affect or constrain framing efforts include the following:
- "The robustness, completeness, and thoroughness of the framing effort". Snow and Benford (1988) identify three core framing-tasks, and state that the degree to which framers attend to these tasks will determine participant mobilization. They characterize the three tasks as the following:
- diagnostic framing for the identification of a problem and assignment of blame
- prognostic framing to suggest solutions, strategies, and tactics to a problem
- motivational framing that serves as a call to arms or rationale for action
- The relationship between the proposed frame and the larger belief-system; centrality: the frame cannot be of low hierarchical significance and salience within the larger belief system. Its range and interrelatedness, if the framer links the frame to only one core belief or value that, in itself, has a limited range within the larger belief system, the frame has a high degree of being discounted.
- Relevance of the frame to the realities of the participants; a frame must seem relevant to participants and must also inform them. Empirical credibility or testability can constrain relevancy: it relates to participant experience, and has narrative fidelity, meaning that it fits in with existing cultural myths and narrations.
- Cycles of protest (Tarrow 1983a; 1983b); the point at which the frame emerges on the timeline of the current era and existing preoccupations with social change. Previous frames may affect efforts to impose a new frame.
Snow and Benford (1988) propose that once someone has constructed proper frames as described above, large-scale changes in society such as those necessary for social movement can be achieved through frame-alignment.
Frame-alignment comes in four forms: frame bridging, frame amplification, frame extension and frame transformation.
- Frame bridging involves the "linkage of two or more ideologically congruent but structurally unconnected frames regarding a particular issue or problem" (Snow et al., 1986, p. 467). It involves the linkage of a movement to "unmobilized [sic] sentiment pools or public opinion preference clusters" (p. 467) of people who share similar views or grievances but who lack an organizational base.
- Frame amplification refers to "the clarification and invigoration of an interpretive frame that bears on a particular issue, problem, or set of events" (Snow et al., 1986, p. 469). This interpretive frame usually involves the invigorating of values or beliefs.
- Frame extensions represent a movement's effort to incorporate participants by extending the boundaries of the proposed frame to include or encompass the views, interests, or sentiments of targeted groups (Snow et al., 1986, p. 472).
- Frame transformation becomes necessary when the proposed frames "may not resonate with, and on occasion may even appear antithetical to, conventional lifestyles or rituals and extant interpretive frames" (Snow et al., 1986, p. 473).
When this happens, the securing of participants and support requires new values, new meanings and understandings. Goffman (1974, p. 43–44) calls this "keying", where "activities, events, and biographies that are already meaningful from the standpoint of some primary framework, in terms of another framework" (Snow et al., 1986, p. 474) such that they are seen differently. Two types of frame transformation exist:
- Domain-specific transformations, such as the attempt to alter the status of groups of people, and
- Global interpretive frame-transformation, where the scope of change seems quite radical—as in a change of world-views, total conversions of thought, or uprooting of everything familiar (for example: moving from communism to market capitalism, or vice versa; religious conversion, etc.).
Frame analysis as rhetorical criticism
Although the idea of language-framing had been explored earlier by Kenneth Burke (terministic screens), political communication researcher Jim A. Kuypers first published work advancing frame analysis (framing analysis) as a rhetorical perspective in 1997. His approach begins inductively by looking for themes that persist across time in a text (for Kuypers, primarily news narratives on an issue or event) and then determining how those themes are framed. Kuypers's work begins with the assumption that frames are powerful rhetorical entities that "induce us to filter our perceptions of the world in particular ways, essentially making some aspects of our multi-dimensional reality more noticeable than other aspects. They operate by making some information more salient than other information...."
In his 2009 essay "Framing Analysis" in Rhetorical Criticism: Perspectives in Action and his 2010 essay "Framing Analysis as a Rhetorical Process", Kuypers offers a detailed conception for doing framing analysis from a rhetorical perspective. According to Kuypers, "Framing is a process whereby communicators, consciously or unconsciously, act to construct a point of view that encourages the facts of a given situation to be interpreted by others in a particular manner. Frames operate in four key ways: they define problems, diagnose causes, make moral judgments, and suggest remedies. Frames are often found within a narrative account of an issue or event, and are generally the central organizing idea." Kuypers's work is based on the premise that framing is a rhetorical process and as such it is best examined from a rhetorical point of view. Curing the problem is not rhetorical and best left to the observer.
Rhetorical framing in politics
Semiotic analysis of 2016 Republican primaries
Framing is used to construct, refine, and deliver messages. Framing in politics is essential to getting your message across to the masses. Frames are mental structures that shape the way we view the world (Lakoff, Don't Think of an Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate 2004). Reframing is used particularly well by both conservatives and liberals in the political arena, so well that they have news anchors and commentators discussing the ideas, supplied phrases and framing (Lakoff, Don't Think of an Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate 2004). The neoconservatives in the Bush Administration and the Pentagon viewed the 9/11 attack as an opportunity to go to war in the Middle East and finally take out Saddam Hussain. The Bush administration sold the war by convincing the nation that Iraq had WMDs and collected supportive evidence that they had Secretary of State Colin Powell present at the United Nations. The War on Terror was the label assigned by the Bush administration to its national security policy, launched in response to the attacks of 9/11 (Lewis 2009). The cultural construction and political rationale supporting this slogan represent a powerful organizing principle that has become a widely accepted framing, laying the groundwork for the invasion of Iraq (Lewis 2009). Another example are after mass shootings where the media gives attention to gun control instead of the social issues surrounding society that result in mentally unstable individuals. The challenge of political violence has grown with new means of global coordination and access to weapons of mass destruction. The Bush administration's response to this threat, following the now iconic policy reference point of 11 September 2001, has had far-ranging implications for national security strategy, relations with the world community, and civil liberties (Lewis 2009). Labeled the 'War on Terror', the policy was framed within a phrase now part of the popular lexicon, becoming a natural and instinctive shorthand. More than phrases though, frames are 'organizing principles that are socially shared and persistent over time, that work symbolically to meaningfully structure the social world' (Lewis 2009). As a particularly powerful organizing principle, the War on Terror created a supportive political climate for what has been called the biggest US foreign policy blunder in modern times: the invasion of Iraq. Thus, in the scope and consequences of its policy-shaping impact, the War on Terror may be the most important frame in recent memory. (Lewis 2009) In the now well-known evolution of the administration's policy, influential neoconservatives within the administration had advocated regime change in Iraq for some time, but the events of 9/11 gave them a compelling way to fast-track their ideas and justify a new policy of pre-emptive war, fist in Afghanistan and then in Iraq. The National Strategy for Combating Terrorism defined the attacks of 9/11 as 'acts of war against the United States of America and its allies, and against the very idea of civilized society'. It identified the enemy as terrorism, an 'evil' threatening our 'freedoms and our way of life. The related National Security Strategy of the United States of America clearly divides 'us' from 'them', linking terrorism to rogue states that 'hate the United States and everything for which it stands (Lewis 2009). Presenting himself as God's agent, Bush's Manichean struggle pitted the USA and its leader against the evildoers (Lewis 2009). This argument is being played out in the 2016 Republican primaries, especially by Donald Trump. Trump has portrayed the Syrian refugees as foot soldiers for ISIS, coming to America to kill us in our main streets. Trump's rhetoric appears to be working; many middle class Americans are consuming his rhetoric. The Americans that are supporting Trump and the Republicans in general, many of them are working class and the Republican agenda although it appears to be in their favor it is not. Framing their message to say one thing and mean something completely different is what the conservatives have become masters at. The 2016 Republican primary has been a knock down fight since it started in August 2015. Donald Trump has approached this contest as if Vince McMahon were the promoter and the rest of the field are a bunch of jobbers (persons who are paid to lose). Trump was inducted into the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) Hall of Fame in 2003. Even his attacks on Megan Kelly from FOX News are straight out of the WWE's playbook. Robert Barthes analyzed wrestling and boxing in his book Mythologies.
This public knows very well the distinction between wrestling and boxing; it knows that boxing is a Jansenist sport, based on a demonstration of excellence. One can bet on the outcome of a boxing-match: with wrestling, it would make no sense. A boxing- match is a story which is constructed before the eyes of the spectator; in wrestling, on the contrary, it is each moment which is intelligible, not the passage of time... The logical conclusion of the contest does not interest the wrestling-fan, while on the contrary a boxing-match always implies a science of the future. In other words, wrestling is a sum of spectacles, of which no single one is a function: each moment imposes the total knowledge of a passion which rises erect and alone, without ever extending to the crowning moment of a result. (Legum 2015)
Preference reversals and other associated phenomena are of wider relevance within behavioural economics, as they contradict the predictions of rational choice, the basis of traditional economics. Framing biases affecting investing, lending, borrowing decisions make one of the themes of behavioral finance.
Edward Zelinsky has shown that framing effects can explain some observed behaviors of legislators.
The role framing plays in the effects of media presentation has been widely discussed, with the central notion that associated perceptions of factual information can vary based upon the presentation of the information.
News media examples
In Bush's War: Media Bias and Justifications for War in a Terrorist Age,Jim A. Kuypers examined the differences in framing of the war on terror between the Bush administration and the U.S. Mainstream News between 2001 and 2005. Kuypers looked for common themes between presidential speeches and press reporting of those speeches, and then determined how the president and the press had framed those themes. By using a rhetorical version of framing analysis, Kuypers determined that the U.S. news media advanced frames counter to those used by the Bush administration:
the press actively contested the framing of the War on Terror as early as eight weeks following 9/11. This finding stands apart from a collection of communication literature suggesting the press supported the President or was insufficiently critical of the President's efforts after 9/11. To the contrary, when taking into consideration how themes are framed, [Kuypers] found that the news media framed its response in such a way that it could be viewed as supporting the idea of some action against terrorism, while concommitantly opposing the initiatives of the President. The news media may well relay what the president says, but it does not necessarily follow that it is framed in the same manner; thus, an echo of the theme, but not of the frame. The present study demonstrates, as seen in Table One [below], that shortly after 9/11 the news media was beginning to actively counter the Bush administration and beginning to leave out information important to understanding the Bush Administration's conception of the War on Terror. In sum, eight weeks after 9/11, the news media was moving beyond reporting political opposition to the President—a very necessary and invaluable press function—and was instead actively choosing themes, and framing those themes, in such a way that the President's focus was opposed, misrepresented, or ignored.
|Themes||President's Frame||Press Frame|
|Good v. Evil||Struggle of good and evil||Not mentioned|
|Civilization v. Barbarism||Struggle of civilization v. barbarism||Not mentioned|
|Nature of Enemy||Evil, implacable, murderers|| Deadly, indiscriminant
|Nature of War|| Domestic/global/enduring
War or police action
|Similarity to Prior Wars||Different Kind of War||WWII or Vietnam?|
|Patience||Not mentioned||Some, but running out|
|International Effort||Stated||Minimally reported|
In 1991 Robert M. Entman published findings surrounding the differences in media coverage between Korean Air Lines Flight 007 and Iran Air Flight 655. After evaluating various levels of media coverage, based on both amount of airtime and pages devoted to similar events, Entman concluded that the frames the events were presented in by the media were drastically different:
By de-emphasizing the agency and the victims and by the choice of graphics and adjectives, the news stories about the U.S. downing of an Iranian plane called it a technical problem, while the Soviet downing of a Korean jet was portrayed as a moral outrage… [T]he contrasting news frames employed by several important U.S. media outlets in covering these two tragic misapplications of military force. For the first, the frame emphasized the moral bankruptcy and guilt of the perpetrating nation, for the second, the frame de-emphasized the guilt and focused on the complex problems of operating military high technology.
Differences in coverage amongst various media outlets:
|Amounts of Media coverage dedicated to each event||Korean Air||Iran Air|
|Time Magazine and Newsweek||51 pages||20 pages|
|CBS||303 minutes||204 minutes|
|New York Times||286 stories||102 stories|
In 1988 Irwin Levin and Gary Gaeth did a study on the effects of framing attribute information on consumers before and after consuming a product (1988). In this study they found that in a study on beef. People who ate beef labeled as 75% lean rated it more favorably than people whose beef was labelled 25% fat.
Linguist and rhetoric scholar George Lakoff argues that, in order to persuade a political audience of one side of and argument or another, the facts must be presented through a rhetorical frame. It is argued that, without the frame, the facts of an argument become lost on an audience, making the argument less effective. The rhetoric of politics uses framing to present the facts surrounding an issue in a way that creates the appearance of a problem at hand that requires a solution. Politicians using framing to make their own solution to an exigence appear to be the most appropriate compared to that of the opposition. Counter-arguments become less effective in persuading an audience once one side has framed an argument, because it is argued that the opposition then has the additional burden of arguing the frame of the issue in addition to the issue itself.
Framing a political issue, a political party or a political opponent is a strategic goal in politics, particularly in the United States of America. Both the Democratic and Republican political parties compete to successfully harness its power of persuasion. According to the New York Times:
Even before the election, a new political word had begun to take hold of the party, beginning on the West Coast and spreading like a virus all the way to the inner offices of the Capitol. That word was 'framing.' Exactly what it means to 'frame' issues seems to depend on which Democrat you are talking to, but everyone agrees that it has to do with choosing the language to define a debate and, more important, with fitting individual issues into the contexts of broader story lines.
Because framing has the ability to alter the public's perception, politicians engage in battles to determine how issues are framed. Hence, the way the issues are framed in the media reflects who is winning the battle. For instance, according to Robert Entman, professor of Communication at George Washington University, in the build-up to the Gulf War the conservatives were successful in making the debate whether to attack sooner or later, with no mention of the possibility of not attacking. Since the media picked up on this and also framed the debate in this fashion, the conservatives won.
One particular example of Lakoff's work that attained some degree of fame was his advice to rename trial lawyers (unpopular in the United States) as "public protection attorneys". Though Americans have not generally adopted this suggestion, the Association of Trial Lawyers of America did rename themselves the "American Association of Justice", in what the Chamber of Commerce called an effort to hide their identity.
The New York Times depicted similar intensity among Republicans:
In one recent memo, titled 'The 14 Words Never to Use,' [Frank] Luntz urged conservatives to restrict themselves to phrases from what he calls ... the 'New American Lexicon.' Thus, a smart Republican, in Luntz's view, never advocates 'drilling for oil'; he prefers 'exploring for energy.' He should never criticize the 'government,' which cleans our streets and pays our firemen; he should attack 'Washington,' with its ceaseless thirst for taxes and regulations. 'We should never use the word outsourcing,' Luntz wrote, 'because we will then be asked to defend or end the practice of allowing companies to ship American jobs overseas.'
From a political perspective, framing has widespread consequences. For example, the concept of framing links with that of agenda-setting: by consistently invoking a particular frame, the framing party may effectively control discussion and perception of the issue. Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber in Trust Us, We're Experts illustrate how public-relations (PR) firms often use language to help frame a given issue, structuring the questions that then subsequently emerge. For example, one firm advises clients to use "bridging language" that uses a strategy of answering questions with specific terms or ideas in order to shift the discourse from an uncomfortable topic to a more comfortable one. Practitioners of this strategy might attempt to draw attention away from one frame in order to focus on another. As Lakoff notes, "On the day that George W. Bush took office, the words "tax relief" started coming out of the White House." By refocusing the structure away from one frame ("tax burden" or "tax responsibilities"), individuals can set the agenda of the questions asked in the future.
Cognitive linguists point to an example of framing in the phrase "tax relief". In this frame, use of the concept "relief" entails a concept of (without mentioning the benefits resulting from) taxes putting strain on the citizen:
The current tax code is full of inequities. Many single moms face higher marginal tax rates than the wealthy. Couples frequently face a higher tax burden after they marry. The majority of Americans cannot deduct their charitable donations. Family farms and businesses are sold to pay the death tax. And the owners of the most successful small businesses share nearly half of their income with the government. President Bush's tax cut will greatly reduce these inequities. It is a fair plan that is designed to provide tax relief to everyone who pays income taxes.
Alternative frames may emphasize the concept of taxes as a source of infrastructural support to businesses:
The truth is that the wealthy have received more from America than most Americans—not just wealth but the infrastructure that has allowed them to amass their wealth: banks, the Federal Reserve, the stock market, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the legal system, federally sponsored research, patents, tax supports, the military protection of foreign investments, and much much more. American taxpayers support the infrastructure of wealth accumulation. It is only fair that those who benefit most should pay their fair share.
Frames can limit debate by setting the vocabulary and metaphors through which participants can comprehend and discuss an issue. They form a part not just of political discourse, but of cognition. In addition to generating new frames, politically oriented framing research aims to increase public awareness of the connection between framing and reasoning.
- The initial response of the Bush administration to the assault of September 11, 2001 was to frame the acts of terror as crime. This framing was replaced within hours by a war metaphor, yielding the "War on Terror". The difference between these two framings is in the implied response. Crime connotes bringing criminals to justice, putting them on trial and sentencing them, whereas as war implies enemy territory, military action and war powers for government.
- The term "escalation" to describe an increase in American troop-levels in Iraq in 2007 implied that the United States deliberately increased the scope of conflict in a provocative manner and possibly implies that U.S. strategy entails a long-term military presence in Iraq, whereas "surge" framing implies a powerful but brief, transitory increase in intensity.
- The "bad apple" frame, as in the proverb "one bad apple spoils the barrel". This frame implies that removing one underachieving or corrupt official from an institution will solve a given problem; an opposing frame presents the same problem as systematic or structural to the institution itself—a source of infectious and spreading rot.
- The "taxpayers money" frame, rather than public or government funds, which implies that individual taxpayers have a claim or right to set government policy based upon their payment of tax rather than their status as citizens or voters and that taxpayers have a right to control public funds that are the shared property of all citizens and also privileges individual self-interest above group interest.
- The "collective property" frame, which implies that property owned by individuals is really owned by a collective in which those individuals are members. This collective can be a territorial one, such as a nation, or an abstract one that does not map to a specific territory.
- Program-names that may describe only the intended effects of a program but may also imply their effectiveness. These include the following:
- Based on opinion polling and focus groups, ecoAmerica, a nonprofit environmental marketing and messaging firm, has advanced the position that global warming is an ineffective framing due to its identification as a leftist advocacy issue. The organization has suggested to government officials and environmental groups that alternate formulations of the issues would be more effective.
- In her 2009 book Frames of War, Judith Butler argues that the justification within liberal-democracies for war, and atrocities committed in the course of war, (referring specifically to the current war in Iraq and to Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay) entails a framing of the (especially Muslim) 'other' as pre-modern/primitive and ultimately not human in the same way as citizens within the liberal order.
- Anecdotal value
- Argumentation theory
- Choice architecture
- Code word (figure of speech)
- Communication theory
- Cultural bias
- Decision making
- Definition of the situation
- Domain of discourse
- Fallacy of many questions
- Figure of speech
- Freedom of speech
- Free press
- Idea networking
- Language and thought
- Power word
- Overton window
- Political correctness
- Rhetorical device
- Semantic domain
- Social heuristics
- Spin doctor
- Thought Reform (book)
- Unspeak (book)
- Virtue word
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