Todd William

The Power of Framing Questions


In the early 1980s cognitive psychologist Amos Tversky and his colleagues set out to study if the way a question was framed influenced the way people think.

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. 

With the survival frame (Case 1), only 25 percent preferred radiation. When the possibility of dying during surgery was highlighted (Case 2), radiation therapy was chosen 42 percent of the time, even at the cost of deceased long-term survival. 

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

Todd William

About Todd William -

My name is Todd William and I’m an indie author. I like to focus on the positives in life. I’m like kryptonite for cynics. I’m a dedicated father and husband, a science and tech buff, a psychology enthusiast, chess and MMA fanatic, and noble introvert. My biggest fault might just be that I’m annoyingly happy all the time.

I’m addicted to books. I read constantly on a variety of topics, the result being that I tend to know a little about a lot of things yet not a whole lot about any one thing. I lay no claim to superior wisdom. I merely have an unyielding appetite for knowledge coupled with a strong desire to contemplate intriguing thoughts.


Write comments