Framing Theory

Framing Theory is an adaptation of Agenda Setting Theory, both theories talk about how media diverts the attention of audience from importance of an issue to what it wants to project and it is used to know media effects. It sets a point of view by having a field of meaning.

Frame is how a specific piece of information is shown by the media to audience and how it is organized or structured. Frame influences the mindset (perception) of people and impacts their decision making on the topic which is changed by media. The changing of perception can be taken as second level of agenda setting. Agenda setting theory just tells what to think about but framing theory tells how to think about the information. So framing theory is also known as second level agenda setting theory. Framing theory was prepared by Goffman in his book Frame Analysis (1974) which argued that people “locate, perceive, identify and label” events and occurrences. The theory was also talked about by Robert Entman, Jim A. Kuypers and many others.

[Related Reading: Gatekeeping Theory]

Forced perspective photo, framing theory

Concepts in Framing Theory

People are believed to have their own framework which is used to look at the world and interpret data known as primary framework. Primary framework is of two types: natural and social. Natural frameworks interpret physical occurrences of events whereas social frameworks view it as socially driven, occurring due to social players like manipulations. These frameworks help interpretation and communication of data along with how data is processed, but people are not aware about it.

Neural circuitry is a part of brain which recognizes frames. Frames become stronger in the brain if the neural circuits are activated after hearing the same words again and again about a particular topic by creating associations.

Some framing techniques given by Fairhurst and Sarr (who developed this theory, 1996) are metaphor, stories, tradition, slogans, jargons, catch-phrases, artifacts, contrast and spin. These techniques are used to create a framework in people’s mind and make them think about it as the media wants and see specific topics. Though agenda setting also does the same, framing organizes and presents information with specific angles. The journalists, media people or source do it consciously or unconsciously according to their own frames. It is not only done by media but others too, like political, religious or social movements, social organizations or social institutions. Framing uses stereotypes and builds a mental filter since birth.

Framing constructs a social reality of a social phenomenon that is ingrained in every person’s mind. Social reality is different from people to people in different parts of the world. It causes a selective influence. Framing is further divided into frames in thought and frames in communications. Frames in thought are about mental representations and interpretations. Similarly, frames in communication are the communication pattern and the communicators.

Also, framing can be divided as positive or negative as well as equivalence and emphasis frames. If the image is positive, it is positive frame and vice versa. Equivalence frames provide equal alternatives and emphasis frame makes information simple and relevant.

Man taking photgraph, Framing Theory

The elements of frames in communications are message, audience, medium, sender, context, images and frames. Referent bins is the place where pieces of information is stored. The frequent information is stored at the top and is more accessible. Absolute or sure gain causes positive framing effects whereas less likelihood of loss creates negative framing effects.

Frame building and frame setting are taken as two parts of framing. Various other theories of other fields made to describe framing theory are Fuzzy-trace theory, prospect theory, motivational theories (hedonic forces), cognitive cost-benefit trade-off theories, etc.

Features of Framing Theory

  • Framing influences interpretation and forms a system.
  • Media encourages some stories and interpretations while discouraging the others.
  • Framing constructs a social reality.
  • Every event is explained and understood by the comparison of the frame with other frames which are referred to.
  • Frame shift happens without knowing.
  • Framing is a mental shortcut.
  • Schema is a series of mental frames and filters.
  • Framing is not only applied in media and mass communication but also in finance, law, politics, etc.
  • Framing affects the choices and decisions made by people.
  • The theory is opposite to rational choice theory of psychology.

Examples of Framing Theory

Framing can be seen in same information used as base but different angles to the same story with same facts. These incidences cause arguments and debates in people. Media creates rhetoric or persuasion. Political parties specially attempt to show news to favor their own views.

For instance, a person is walking drooped due to back pain. The occurrence is purely natural and biological. But, the person’s friend might think the person is sad or being inattentive and disrespectful. The event is interpreted as a social issue. The frame of the friend’s mind tells the person that the person is sad.

Similarly, media frame stories to change the perception of people in situations of racism and religious odiousness. There is a story of a tiger attacking a girl and a man saving the girl by killing the tiger. Here, media shows the man as brave until he is known to be a Muslim. After that, the media tells that the tiger was playing with the girl when the Muslim attacked it and killed an innocent tiger. Media can twist the story anyway to set propaganda and make people believe in their own version of the story.

Asians and Africans being taken as uncivilized and primitive by Europeans and Americans is also an example of how framing works as media only shows the problems of people living there rather than their ingenious knowledge and development.

Criticisms of Framing Theory

  • Framing builds mistrust against the media.
  • Framing creates gap between the truth and the public awareness by creating a point of view.
  • Framing distorts truth.
  • Frames limit debates by placing vocabularies and metaphors that can be used in news that is used by all public.
  • Framing is becoming less as new media is developing and giving people an opportunity to think about same topic with different point of view.