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Cognition. 2006 Oct;101(3):467-94. Epub 2005 Dec 20.

Information leakage from logically equivalent frames.

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Department of Psychology, University of California, San Diego, USA.


Framing effects are said to occur when equivalent frames lead to different choices. However, the equivalence in question has been incompletely conceptualized. In a new normative analysis of framing effects, we complete the conceptualization by introducing the notion of information equivalence. Information equivalence obtains when no choice-relevant inferences can be drawn from the speaker's choice of frame. We show that, to support the normative implications traditionally attributed to framing effects, frames must be equivalent in this sense. We also present new evidence for McKenzie and Nelson's (2003) reference point hypothesis, which posits a tendency to cast descriptions in terms of what has increased relative to the reference point. This leakage of information about relative state violates information equivalence, and gives rise to a normative account of the most robust finding in the attribute framing literature - the valence-consistency of preference shifts. We argue that, more generally, valenced descriptions leak information about perceived valence. Such "implicit recommendations" may generalize the reference point explanation of the valence-consistent shift. Normative and psychological implications of the information leakage framework are discussed.

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