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Framing Can Make All the Difference

Framing is a powerful tool – one we all should know more about. It can be used for black hat and for white hat purposes. They can be done to us or by us. In all four combinations, look before you leap.

The most basic sense of framing is simple valence. This is where the original idea of Prospect Theory by Kahneman and Tversky the “mis” weighting of alternatives when they are framed as avoiding losses or seeking gains.

My Take

But contexts can be framed much more specifically, often with just a few choice primes. That is one of the powers of using analogies in communication and education. Frames serve as a semantic lens in which we interpret new information.

I have a feeling that most readers of EID already know something about framing, so let me get to the point for today. I just got my alumni magazine from Tufts University and it had a great message from the Editor. He describes a powerful use of framing that has been in the news a lot lately.

Militarization of policing is not just about gear. It’s a whole way of thinking and speaking—one that assumes police power is based on military might rather than the consent of the policed. Martial language can divide police from their communities just as scary-looking weapons can.

There have been many controversial interactions between the police and the general public in the past year. Some of these have led to violence. David Brittan, Editor of Tufts Magazine, suggests one factor that increases this risk. It is the language that we use to talk about the police. This language creates a frame that primes the idea of violence – which then acts as frames and primes often do to influence subsequent behavior.

Here are a few of his examples: We refer to the police as officers, sergeants, captains, lieutenants, and other military titles. They refer to the public as civilians. We create a military frame just in their titles.

  • We refer to the police as the “force.” Why this word? It primes an attitude and default behavior that should be last, not first.
  • Another label we use for police is “troopers” which primes the idea of paratroopers or stormtroopers. Again, not the image or interaction style we are hoping for.

    Using terms usually associated with violence creates a lens through which we think about the police and our interaction with them. And it creates a lens in which they think about themselves and their interaction with us. Not on purpose, mind you. But present nevertheless.

    Your Turn

    How much do you think this impacts police behavior? Do you think if we called them “Police Service” or “Police Department” it would make a difference? Perhaps instead of military titles we could use video game levels? “No, she’s not the Police Captain, she’s the Police Level Three Wizard . . .”

    Image Credit:Tim McAteer

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