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Explaining the Framing Effect through Evolutionary Analysis

PI(s): Brandon Routman (n/a)
Start Date: 1-Apr-2013
End Date: 27-Apr-2013

In behavioral economics, a “framing effect” is conceived of as an instance in which a small change to the presentation of a question results in a large change in the manner in which that question is responded to. Although it is a well-documented phenomenon that has arisen in many studies, a cognitive explanation for why it occurs has been elusive. In previous work, I proposed an evolutionarily-informed model through which to understand it. My model rests on a common conceptualization of the brain as having two parts: System I and System II. System I is characterized by automatic, subconscious and effortless processing; has an antecedent in the cognition of lower animals; and tends to be located in evolutionarily old parts of the brain. System II is characterized by controlled, effortful and conscious processing; is more unique to the human species; and tends to be housed in evolutionarily new parts of the brain. The crux of my model states that a framing effect occurs when one frame of a question taps into one system, while a different frame taps into the other system. My hope is to extend this line of work. Ultimately, my goal is guide research in the construction of a new model of economic behavior: one that is more realistic in its assumptions of human nature and more accurate in its predictive capabilities.