Psychology: How powerful framing really is – Goose liquor

"What parents mean with 'baby' and doctors with 'fetus' are two different things," says Schemer. While one term describes a child with face and hands, the other carries the picture of a pile of cells. And while "mad cow disease" refers to a certain observable behavior, "Creutzfeld-Jakob" is the medical term for a complex disease. In contrast to the experiments of Kahneman and Tversky, framing subjects in the communication sciences are confronted with rather different stories. "Both approaches have an effect on the recipient," says Schemer.

Powerful metaphors?

There is another school of thought that deals with framing: the so-called cognitive linguistics. It was founded in the early 1980s by the linguist and Chomsky student George Lakoff of the University of California, Berkeley. In his 1996 book, Moral Politics, Lakoff argues that much of the thinking takes place unconsciously, and that our judgments, including moral judgments, depend on "conceptual metaphors" that are activated by language. "When discussing moral issues, we use a number of metaphors," writes Lakoff. "We use these metaphors to frame moral issues; to interpret them, to understand them and to assess their consequences. «(» Moral Politics «, p. 44)

On this view Lakoff bases his "Moral Politics Theory". The key message is that American politics is characterized by two moral worldviews borne by family metaphors: liberals (democrats) leaning on the metaphor of the "nourishing family" in political judgments and conservatives (republicans) on the metaphor a "strict father." According to Lakoff's theory, these models of education are modeled on national politics through the metaphor of a "nation as a family." The use of language is consistent with the two models and influences (by the framing) the perception of citizens on political issues.

But Lakoff's school of thought goes further. In his book "Metaphors we live by" states: "Our ordinary conceptual system in which we both think and act is fundamentally metaphorical. […] Metaphor is not just a question of language, that is, of mere words. We argue that, on the contrary, human thought processes are largely metaphorical. "To be sure, all thinking begins with a few nonmetaphoric, physical impressions: sensations, actions, and emotions. But at the latest when a current impression is associated with earlier ones, new conceptual metaphors emerge, such as when one considers a relationship as a journey that can be "a bit bumpy."

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"Authors like Lakoff are so-called constructivists," says Christian Schemer. "For them, there is no such thing as reality, and therefore no ultimate truth." Instead, in the constructivist worldview, everything political is just a struggle of competing opinions.

Another expert who can not do much with the "metaphor metaphor" of thinking is psychologist Steven Pinker of Harvard University. This becomes particularly clear in a book review from 2006: "Lakoff's thinking about politics is a disaster," writes Pinker there. "In Lakoff's world, political debates are mere competitions between metaphors. Citizens are not rational and do not pay attention to facts unless the facts fit into a frame fixed by sheer repetition 'in the neural structures of their brain.' "

The controversial handbook on framing, written by linguist Elisabeth Wehling on behalf of the ARD, reads a lot like Lakoff's: "Every single word activates a frame in the recipient's head. This is true for all languages, "she writes. And: "Only through the constant repetition of new language patterns over a longer period of time is it possible to cognitively enforce the new frames and thus make them a realistic perceptual alternative." That Mrs Wehling writes this is not without reason: her The thesis was intended to prove Lakoff's "Moral Politics Theory". This too is no coincidence: Wehling's supervisor is George Lakoff.

The effect of framing is often overestimated

How powerful is framing really? In his book The Stuff of Thought, Steven Pinker argues that Lakoff's claims about the importance of metaphors and frames are neither philosophical nor psychological. There is nothing to suggest that people always perceive and process metaphors as such. Pinker cites a study by psychologists Boaz Keysar, Samuel Glucksberg, and their colleagues at Princeton University. In it, the researchers let their subjects read a short story:

"I have the feeling that this relationship is in the final stages. How are we going to have a strong marriage if you continue to admire other women? "Lisa said. "Your jealousy is the problem," Tom said.

The researchers speculated that, according to the conceptual disease metaphor, "in their last words", readers would be quicker to digest the phrase "This disease infected you" than a story that begins with the words "Love is a challenge". That was not the case. Instead, the subjects seemed surprised by the phrase "This disease infected you" and took longer to read it. On the other hand, it was different when the disease metaphor was presented in an unusual way, as in this beginning of the story:

"I think our relationship is nearing a zero line. How can we give her a drug if you keep admiring other women? "Lisa said. "Your jealousy is the problem," Tom said.

In this case, the subjects read the sentence "This disease has infected you" much faster. The authors interpret the result in such a way that linguistic frames have an effect above all when they are new and surprising.

The effect of framing can be extremely individual

This observation has meanwhile been replicated several times, including for political framings. Wehling's assertion that repeated strategic framing permanently influences the judgments of the audience is countered by the study of an international research group led by Marc Helbling of the WZB in Berlin. The authors were able to show that Swiss voters usually respond to framing by only representing their own political position more than before – regardless of whether framing supported their own position or not.

A study from the year 2006 shows that framing effects can also be extremely individual. Benedetto De Martino and his colleagues from University College London examined their participants' brain activity as they made their risk decisions. The tasks corresponded to the classical experiments of Kahneman and Tversky. The results showed that subjects in the brain scanner were affected to varying degrees by framing – depending on how well their prefrontal cortex worked, which is also involved in the planning of action. The authors conclude that people are not vulnerable to the framing effect as long as they think about what is presented to them.

So Elisabeth Wehling is right when she tells the ARD executive that framing can have an effect on the listener, onlookers or readers. Framing effects of various kinds have long been documented. But she has misled her clients, consciously or unconsciously, over the strength, direction and limits of this effect. For example, the framing handbook itself is more of an advertising framing for Mrs. Wehling's Berkeley International Framing Institute than a well-balanced presentation of the available insights – by the way, the institute has no connection to the university in Berkeley.

"Ms. Wehling and Lakoff pretend that the world is changing as a result of framing," says Christian Schemer. "Some authors suggest that. But it is nonsense and probably used for self-promotion and sales purposes. "Framing can be used as an organization to fine-tune its own image, but only if the frame recognizes the reality, Schemer. "People notice otherwise."