Good News, Bad News

The science writer for the Oregonian, Joe Rojas-Burke, wrote a story yesterday about framing and health, the focus of my research and writing.

Cool.

The story lets you take a health quiz where you can choose from a number of different scenarios about life, death, drugs, and more. The story presents you with choices that are framed as positive and negative.

Which would you choose?

Human nature seems to take over when we’re confronted with information that’s framed in a positive or negative light: we choose the positive outcome. Even if the outcome is exactly the same but the wording of the test questions differ, then given the choice, we prefer to think of issues in a positive framework. And out behavior follows our thinking.

So, if I tell you that this new acne-diminishing drug cured 90% of the kids who tried it, readers will find that much more compelling than a statement that says 10% of the kids who tried a new acne-diminishing drug cure died as a result of the medicine.

Besides, we like to think of ourselves as more fortunate than everyone else. Even if my personal chances of coming to harm are 10%, I will take the chance because I’m optimistically biased. And not just me: it seems to be hard-wired.

The ground-breaking study by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman in the prestigious journal Science (1974) was required reading in graduate school because the authors demonstrated that how information is presented can impact our choices. And some of us continue to examine how framing influences audiences. Stay tuned.

Read Rojas-Burke’s at:
http://www.oregonlive.com/health/index.ssf/2011/02/health_test_are_you_prepared_t.html

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About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. She is enrolled with the Osage tribe.
This entry was posted in authenticity, framing, health, journalism, news bias, risk, science, science communication, writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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