Posts Tagged ‘kahneman.’

Framing in the social sciences refers to a set of concepts and theoretical perspectives on how individuals, groups, and societies organize, perceive, and communicate about reality.  


When you get asked a question, do ever consider how it’s been framed?

If you’re watching one of the tabloid current affairs programs, for example, you may be asked to participate in a poll. Obvious, to most of us, is the fact that the previous story will have affected your terms of reference for that poll. A story about a person committing a violent crime while on parole is likely to lead to a higher figure for the “get tough on crime” options than if the previous story had been about an effective prison drug rehabilitation program.

This is why the Coaltion continually used the phrase “putting it on the credit card” when refering to any of the previous Government spending initiatives. It frames the listener’s attitude to the debt. If Hockey had said that we couldn’t go “extending the mortgage” to pay for things, then there would have still been a negative association, but it wouldn’t have sounded as bad. When the Abbott Government increases our debt above the “disastrous” $300 billion that Labor borrowed, I suspect that no-one on their side of politics will say: “We can pay for some things but for everything else, there’s Mastercard “.

When it comes to the human psyche, the work of  Daniel Kahneman* and Amos Tversky should be of particular interest to politicians. To what extent, political parties are deliberately using their studies, and to what extent the political process is dominated by focus groups, polling and media advisers, I don’t know, but there is an enormous potential for using things such as “framing” for effectively changing the way a political party is perceived by the electorate. The whole asylum seeker debate, for example, is of no importance to most people in Australia, yet it was framed in such a way that it became a hot button election issue. If you’ve just been shocked by my assertion that asylum seeker debate is of no importance, then I suggest that the “framing” has worked extremely well. Were it not for the reporting of boats, most people wouldn’t know that it was even happening. People wouldn’t be able to distinguish between “boat people”, other refugees and people coming here as part of the immigration program. Yet “protecting our borders” was seen as extremely important by a large number of people, as was Australia’s “lack of compassion” for others. Now that the flow of information has been slowed, we don’t have the same level of hysteria about the invading armada  from Indonesia. Has the flow of boats decreased significantly? Is anyone in the MSM reporting the number of arrivals any more?

(In fact, another good example of framing is an article by a columnist where he used a crime committed by a Sudanese refugee – and some dodgy statistics about his community – to argue why it was important to “stop the boats” and the “queue jumpers”. I suspect that most people wouldn’t stop to consider that these particular refugees DIDN’T come by boat – they were the non-“queue jumping” genuine refugees!)

Tversky and Kahneman’s work challenges the Economic Rationalist theory that people behave logically and do what’s in their best interest. Their studies in the field of behavioural economics have three main themes:

  • People frequently make economic decisions based on a vague idea and rather than logically thinking about them.
  • How things are framed, which is often based on things such as stories and stereotypes
  • The Market itself and its ineffeciencies.

To put it simply, when you see the headlines, “Housing Prices to Boom” and “Housing Bubble Risk”, do you put off buying your first home or investment property or do you think that you better get in quickly? Strangely, people warning about the dangers, may itself contribute to the boom.

Likewise, a decision by the Reserve Bank to cut interest rates to stimulate demand because it’s “worried about a looming recession” may make business owners concerned about their profits falling or workers about losing their job. Then, rather than spend, they try to put money away for the future.

When it comes to politics, the Coalition have largely managed to frame the economic agenda on their own terms. “We had a surplus, Labor has deficits” and “We had money in the bank, Labor has debt”. The existence of the GFC is acknowledged, then ignored. It’s been rare that anyone has ever questioned whether Hockey was arguing that there’d be no debt if they were still in charge, or even – in a time when the economy is “struggling” – whether they considern it a good idea to run surpluses sucking further funds out of the system.  Indeed, it’s interesting how they’ve been able to argue that the Carbon Tax is terrible because it takes money off us, while simultaneously asserting that running a surplus budget where you take more in taxes than you give back in services is always a desirable thing.

Perhaps, the most obvious argument against using  the politics of using polling as a way of determining a course action is when you look at the number of areas where the Labor Party’s policies were prefered by the electorate. Education the NDIS, and Gay Marriage were all pluses for Labor, and yet many people still decided against voting for them, in spite of not agreeing with the Opposition on most issues. Labor, they felt, was moving from one disaster to another. When pressed, the issues were either years ago or just part of the normal chaos of government such as when the states disagree with what the federal government intends.

The challenge for the progressive side of politics over the next three years will be to ensure that debate is framed in their terms – that means holding Abbott accountable for his promises and ensuring that important social issues don’t disappear of the agenda entirely.

*(Writer of “Thinking Fast and Slow”)

Interesting short interview with Daniel Kahneman.