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Frame of Reference

 

Explanations > Models > Frame of Reference

Description | Example | Discussion | So what?

 

Description

A frame of reference is a complex set of assumptions and attitudes which we use to filter perceptions to create meaning. The frame can include beliefs, schemas, preferences, values, culture and other ways in which we bias our understanding and judgment.

Tversky and Kahneman (1981) define a decision frame as ‘the decision-maker’s conception of the act, outcomes and contingencies associated with a particular choice.’

Example

I look at a group of young people wearing hooded sweatshirts and immediately assume they are social deviants who out looking for trouble. I avoid eye contact and breathe a sigh of relief when they have passed by.

A person has a problem with their computer. They are not very technical and see it as the computer as 'broken' like a kettle may break and stop working. They call in a technically able friend who sees it with a different frame of reference, including how newly installed programs may has disrupted things. This indeed turns out to be the case.

Discussion

Framing is an important consideration in changing minds as we perceive what we consider to be reality through subconscious frames. Because we see perceptions as real, we believe others must also see them as real. It is as if we are wearing pink spectacles and naturally believe that the world has a pink hue, and consequently that others will see it likewise.

A common persuasion method based on framing is reframing. This effectively says 'look at things a different way'. When filters are challenged and loosened so that alternatives are considered, giving new ways of looking at things and so creating new possible meanings. In this way it can act to change beliefs, values and other deep systems. 

So what?

Seek to understand people's frames of reference. If you can see these then you may also see how to change their frame. If you can change their frames, you can change their world.

See also

Framing, Reframing, Disrupt-Then-Reframe (DTR)

 

Tversky, A. and Kahneman, D. (1981). The framing of decisions and psychology of choice. Science, 211, 453-458.

 

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