There’s a political divide in the US that some media pundits describe as “alternative narratives”. Can there really be more than one truth? Surely not, you may think . . . but social scientists and psychologists have conducted several experiments to prove that, while the facts may be objectively the same, how they are expressed can result in truly different reactions.
Consider this medical diagnostics message, as described by Jonrobert Tartaglione in The Neuropsychology of Influence and Decision-Making.
When patients are diagnosed with lung cancer, doctors are presented with two treatment options: surgery or radiation. Surgery is the superior choice in the long run, however radiation poses less risk in the short-term. There are two ways to present this data to people deciding which treatment to choose:
Option A: The one-month survival rate of surgery is 90%
Option B: There is a 10% chance of death in the first month post-surgery.
The facts, here are objectively the same, but if you outline the option B to patients, only 50 per cent of patients chose surgery, while if you outline the 90% survival rate in Option A, the selection rate skyrockets to 84 per cent.
“Same facts, very different decisions, based on whether it is framed as a loss or gain,” Tartaglione writes, quoting a 1982 study.
Generally, researchers have found that loss aversion is a greater motivator than possible gain. So if you frame a message that you might lose something by not taking the desired action, you’ll get a much better response than if there is a hopeful gain.
Other framing effects can occur if you state things as objective frequency or probability. Say, you remark that “this hurricane is predicted to kill 2,400 out of every 10,000 people” or “this hurricane is predicted to kill 24% of the population (of 10,000). At least one study shows the numeric presentation will seem to be a greater threat than the percentage number.
Undoubtedly, then, framing is important in your messaging. You should review the psychology and focus on risk aversion. And think about how you present things as numbers of percentages. Sometimes you may want to communicate one way; in others differently.
The truth may be the same, but the marketing results could be entirely different.