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  • Writer's pictureSally Khallash

How framing can increase spending or make stress feel OK

In the 2001 tax rebate programme, the George W. Bush government paid 38 billion in tax refunds to taxpayers in the United States in the hope that it would boost consumption. Unfortunately, only about 22 percent planned to use their check for extra purchases, the remaining 62 percent would rather save their money. Why didn't the programme work?

According to a study by Epley, Mak and Hark, this was due to the way the programme had been framing the initiative - they used the word rebate. Had the government framed it as a bonus instead, they could have convinced many more to spend their money.

Rebate versus bonus

As it turns out, rebate simply creates different a behaviour that bonus. That's because the word bonus creates a mental image of excess money, while the word rebate creates images of money that puts you back to square one, restoring the status quo.

The researchers conducted a field study in which they gave students at Harvard $50 framet either as tuition rebate or bonus. A week later, the students who had received a refund, spent 10 dollars and saved 40, while students with bonus money had spent $22 and saved 28 - more than twice as much as rebate recipients. In another study in a laboratory setting, the researchers gave Harvard participants $25 either as refund or bonus money. In the lab shop, rebate students used around $2.43 in the store, while the bonus participants spent $11.16, or 4 times as much!

Framing stress to be OK

If you're anything like most people, you probably agree that stress is harmful to your health. But did you know that this way of framing stress might hurt your health?

In a 1998 study, around thirty thousand American adults were asked how much stress they had experienced in the past year and whether they thought stress was harmful to their health. Based on this study, the researchers discovered that high levels of stress increased the risk of dying by 43 percent - but only for those who believed that stress was harmful to their health. It turned out that people who reported high levels of stress, but didn't believe that stress was damaging, had the lowest risk of dying than any other group in the study - even lower than those experiencing just a bit of stress.

So apparently, it's not so much stress in itself that is harmful, but rather our framing of it. As the book on the study, The Upside of Stress, pinpoints: 182,000 Americans might have died prematurely because they thought that stress affected their health - over 20,000 deaths a year that might have been prevented.

Mind your framing

These study illustrates the amazing power that framing can have - not only on the result of political decisions, but also the effectiveness of company policies or job satisfaction. The question is, how many other areas of our work and life are affected by frames that unconsciously guide our perception, choices and decisions.

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