They presented patients, medical students, and doctors with statistics about the effectiveness of surgery versus radiation therapy in treating cancer.
The participants were given information about effectiveness and survival rates and asked which treatment they would prefer, but framed with two different perspectives. Think about what you would choose as you read the statistics.
CASE 1: Half the participants were provided the following data:
<> SURGERY: 90 percent of people who have undergone surgery survived the treatment, and 34 percent survived for at least five years afterward
<> RADIATION: 100 percent of people who have undergone radiation therapy survived the treatment, but only 22 percent who were still alive five years later
CASE 2: The other half were given the same information, but framed in terms of mortality rather than survival. They were provided the following data:
<> SURGERY: 10 percent of people who have undergone surgery died during the surgery, and 66 percent died within five years
<> RADIATION: None of the people who have undergone radiation therapy died during treatment, and 78 percent died within five years
You will notice that all patients were given the exact same set of statistics, just framed differently. The result had a remarkable effect on their decisions.
What's more, even doctors with extensive training in these areas were as vulnerable to this framing bias and unable to judge based purely on the numbers.
If merely framing a question can influence a doctor's thought process even within his own domain, what does that mean for the rest of who merely hope to make rational choices?
Source: The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar
(Artwork by: Bill Sanderson)