Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Framing 101 (frameworksinstitute.org)
111 points by tschiller 42 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 57 comments

There’s a fictional story about a girl going off to college and writing a letter to her parents (pre internet days). She laments about getting injured, her dormitory catching fire, and getting pregnant. But at the end of the letter, she reveals that none of those things happened and in reality she is just getting some bad grades.

Even though it’s not real, I find this kind of framing to be useful in real life situations. When something bad happens, it can easily feel like that was the worst possible thing that could have happened. And your reaction might match that feeling. But the reality is if you’re still alive, it probably wasn’t such a big deal and you think about it in the context of what would actually be the worst thing that could have happened.

Another similar framing I sometimes use is to think about how many people in the world would gladly switch places with me and have my problems instead of theirs. Helps to remind myself to keep things in perspective.

I took a class in college on cognitive linguistics taught about that last couple of decades of cognitive science research around framing. The field that we studied was relatively small so we became familiar with the major researchers in the field. The major figure was George Lakoff.

These people claim to use a proprietary method called Strategic Frame Analysis. I was curious to see if I recognized any names under the "People" section. I don't. As far as I can tell, they seem to be disconnected from the research project that I studied in college. I'm curious to know more about the political dynamic behind this. Is this a parallel research project? Do they have their own theoretical framework that was developed in parallel to Lakoff and others?

Looking at their history section, it looked like this was started by someone named Susan Nall Bales, who developed a method of "applying framing research", but it doesn't appear like she has any training in a discipline involved in "framing research". What research is being applied exactly?

George Lakoff's Metaphors We Live By is one of my favorite books. It's a great reminder about how powerful words can be at subliminally guiding our thoughts.


Since the predominant implicit metaphor behind "argument" is battle/war/conflict, we intuit that there must be a "winner" and that we must "defeat" the "opponent" and other nasty implications. Because of this I often make explicit when I converse that I'm engaging in a "collaborative exploration" and not an fight about who is right.

I've read the book and I find the first half great. It demonstrates the ubiquity of metaphor in language.

But its reach seriously exceeds its grasp. The book makes all kinds of bizarre claims. For example:

> the predominant implicit metaphor behind "argument" is battle/war/conflict, we intuit that there must be a "winner" and that we must "defeat" the "opponent" and other nasty implications

The reason we use war as a metaphor for argument is because wars and arguments are similar in an important way. They are methods of producing a decision when there is disagreement. That is: "war is the continuation of politics by other means". In the book, Lakoff makes the bizarre argument (I'm paraphrasing) "why can't we think of arguments like a dance?" Well, George, because a dance doesn't decide anything whereas arguments and wars do.

You can wax poetic about "collaborative exploration" all you like but the real question is, given a fork in the road, do we go right or left?

That’s a valid point. But many “arguments” are not about a decision and are better thought of as exploration or discussion yet they are labeled “ARGUMENT” and that creates a posture exactly as you describe which results in the parties fighting to win rather than engaging in a curious dialogue about all elements of the debate.

I agree that the metaphor of war/battle/conflict is appropriate in numerous scenarios of arguments.

I took away from the book the (I think) important point that if you have different goals (than fight) but use the word "argument", many people can buy into the (wrong) metaphor and you are now cross purposes.

> Because of this I often make explicit when I converse that I'm engaging in a "collaborative exploration" and not an fight about who is right.

Have you found that successful? One of my big struggles in my social life is that I am quite curious how things are and more often than not my discussion/arguments are interpreted somehow so that I supposedly want to show my "opponent" is wrong. And really, most of the time, who is right and who is wrong is one of the last things crossing my mind.

One great technique for understanding others (and often as a bonus also showing them they don't know what they are talking about) is to simply ask for the mechanism they are describing.

So when someone is in favor of policy X, ask them how X accomplishes the goal they are in favor of -- what is the cause-effect chain.

This (at least according to psychologists' research) usually makes people more cognizant of the gaps in their understanding, and also more receptive to alternative solutions or explanations.

I had the same problem my whole life up until about two years ago. For whatever reason my default mindset was that when I heard something I didn't understand or was curious about, I would explain my understanding and frame that against what I thought was wrong about their understanding. I then expected them to respond in a similar way. To the majority of people this seems confrontational and argumentative, so everyone just thought I was being a know it all jerk.

I changed to only asking questions and/or mirroring back what they said. The change in strategy answers my curiosities and helps people to feel like you are listening to them and care about what they have to say. Hope it helps.

Curiosity requires a degree of comfort in being wrong and confidence in yourself. Unfortunately many people think if they are “wrong” or don’t know something they are stupid and so asking questions makes them feel that they are wrong and thus stupid. Once you empathize with them it’s easier to navigate just as you discovered.

Perhaps tone and word choice can help here, as well as communicating your pretext. Also, just because you’re curious doesn’t mean others share the same curiosity in the moment… depending on how and what you probe you can be irritating even if that’s not your intention.

I cannot stand Lakoff, having read Don't Think of an Elephant years ago.

No, the reason Americans felt September 11th so deeply isn't because the Twin Towers were "phallic" imagery, nor was it because planes "penetrated" the "vaginal image" of the Pentagon in a "plume of heat."

He seems important to folks who study in the field, so maybe I shouldn't judge him on one book, but I don't get the hype.

I highly recommend Lakoff’s lecture on framing and metaphors in political speech and discourse.

Changed how I listen - to anyone - forever.


His framelab podcast is also excellent.

Wow, I meant to write a semi-satirical guide to successful propaganda for a while now. Apparently, people professionally doing propaganda published one for real.


"Celebrating 20 years of social science for social change."

You can't make this stuff up. And I bet 90% of people here don't even understand why this slogan is fucked up. The notion that the purpose of science is to produce social change is straight out of Neil Postman's Technopoly (chapter titled Scientism).

Framing is a tool - it can be used for bad or good. You can use it to reframe an explanation in terms that your audience will understand more intuitively, or you can spin bad news to sound either unimportant or positive. For what it's worth, reframing your thoughts is an important practice in improving your mindset, and thus many aspects of mental health.

>Framing is a tool - it can be used for bad or good.

Propaganda is a tool - it can be used for bad or good. The problem is that "bad" and "good" are subjective value judgements. Simultaneously, the mindset of manipulation is going to have certain predictable effects on communication and society, no matter what the manipulation is used for.

If you haven't caught on, the website uses the techniques it promotes.

I'll make some statements here, and lets see if we agree:

1) We live in a social world.

2) Your effectiveness is measured by other people.

3) Your ability to communicate can affect your perceived effectiveness.

4) Highly effective people are rewarded.

5) To be rewarded is 'good'.

Let me know where we disagree, and then we'll have a better understanding of each other.

2,3 and 4 can be true or false and building each subsequent statement upon the former may be a good example of framing rhetoric but does not provide a good foundation for your argument and is actually more of a house of cards.

Yes, this is the Machiavellian view.

Alternatively, we might want to look at objectivity and truthiness as being, you know, important.

We can do both, but one of those things is more important.

Framing is just perspective. Our conversation is a debate on how to frame framing.

Trying to change someone's perspective isn't always propaganda, and of course you can change your own prospective through reframing and introspection.

There's a fine line between presenting your ideas in a clear and effective manner, and "framing" the presentation in a way that makes it more likely others will agree with you (a manipulative technique). Think of a good salesman: if the product's values sold itself, the salesman wouldn't really matter - but they do.

Often people using these manipulative techniques don't even realize they are manipulating - they just think they are "charismatic" or "persuasive".

I think it's a matter of definition. I always thought of framing as understanding your audience and expressing your ideas in a way which puts a "frame" around a viewpoint to highlight the way it matters to them. It's a general technique which is very important to effective communication, but there are ways to make it manipulative, such as preying on people's fear/greed/envy/ other negative emotions. But I think framing is a neutral term which does not exclusively mean negative emotional manipulation. Having said that, I haven't read the articles on the site to know which way the Framing Institute uses the word framing.

You are always framing your statements and questions, whether you are aware of it or not. If you dont understand what you are doing, you probably are framing things incorrectly / from wrong perspective.

An example of poor framing: "do you feel you have the right to tell private company whay to do"

Reframing the same question can expose serious logical flaws and assumptions, and every critical thinker worth his salt should be aware of it and able to examine an issue from different viewpoints

This is why my dad dislikes sales people. His job is to pick the best tool for the job, and if 3 competing sales people come to sell him a tool, at least 2 of them have as their sole job making picking the best tool for the job harder.

Rhetoric is traced back to Mesopotamia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhetoric#History

The FrameWorks Institute is just a non-profit that's modernizing the study of rhetoric for modern political and social discourse

Or in other words: how to manipulate people into believing irrational bullshit. I can't see how this has any benefits for society.

Nice straw man.

Convincing someone that the earth is flat is changing their perspective, but so is convincing them that flat earth is bullshit. People aren't rational by default, they need convincing.

... Wow. The about section from that PDF:

> The FrameWorks Institute is a nonprofit think tank that advances the mission-driven sector’s capacity to frame the public discourse about social and scientific issues. The organization’s signature approach, Strategic Frame Analysis®, offers empirical guidance on what to say, how to say it, and what to leave unsaid. FrameWorks designs, conducts, and publishes multi-method, multi-disciplinary framing research to prepare experts and advocates to expand their constituencies, to build public will, and to further public understanding. To make sure this research drives social change, FrameWorks supports partners in reframing, through strategic consultation, campaign design, FrameChecks®, toolkits, online courses, and in-depth learning engagements known as FrameLabs. In 2015, FrameWorks was named one of nine organizations worldwide to receive the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.

I'm confused by the angle this "institute" seems to have about manipulating social / political discourse. (In that its weird to be providing these communication frameworks at the same time as actively using them for a agenda, but maybe I'm interpreting this incorrectly)

But that aside, the techniques that they discuss look like they could be useful for persuasive communication, including technical and product focused communication, so it is interesting from that perspective.

Well, if you study what makes some people and speech persuasive, you will not be easy to manipulate any more. Perhaps it will also enable you to manipulate those without such knowledge. Like an arms-race situation

Dont forget that some people are excellent manipulators without having to read about it in a book, its like natural talent for them

Thats why we protect minors - they are so inexperienced, so an adult could easilly manipulate them into sex, crime, anything.

"Sleight of Mouth" is a great resource for anyone who wants to learn more about NLP techniques like framing.

> Perhaps the most fundamental goal of applying the verbal patterns of Sleight of Mouth is to help people to shift their perspective 1) from a problem frame to an outcome frame, 2) from a failure frame to a feedback frame, and 3) from an impossibility frame to an ‘as if’ frame.

(An "as if" frame is where you imagine if the impossible outcome was possible and what that would be like.)

One of the main takeaways from this book was learning about Disney's creative process (although this wasn't discussed explicitly). There's three roles, all being important: the dreamer, the realist, and the critic.

The critic tends to operate from the "problem frame." Basically, they can be more effective by shifting to the "outcome frame." Instead of focusing on what you don't want, figure out what you do want instead. "Avoiding stress" changes to "becoming more relaxed and comfortable."

After identifying the positive intention behind the criticism, the book recommends changing it from a statement into a "how" question. "How can we...?"

I hope you don't mean this NLP:

> Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) is a pseudoscientific approach to communication, personal development, and psychotherapy created by Richard Bandler and John Grinder in California, United States, in the 1970s.


Even though there's definitely a pop psychology element to the book, I did take away some practical and useful advice. I see it as a spiritual sequel to "How to Win Friends and Influence People."

Did you detect the framing in that sentence? :)

Sadly in 2021 my initial reaction is 'this is Orwellian' because frankly, what we need a lot more these days is not 'framing for the purpose of narrative creation' but rather 'contextualizing facts so they are more Truthful'.

Because 20 years ago I was all aboard with most popular social movements, now, I'm supportive of most motivations, but very skeptical of groups, research, narratives and hardly believe anything I read even in trusted outlets. My 'there is more to this story Spidey Sense' generally does not fail me too often.

I wonder if we need the 'un-framing' institute, focused on trying to sus out the materiality of the truth in a digestible, reasonable way so that competing narratives can dissolve and people can have actual conversations instead of yelling about talking points.

They need to reframe that table of contents that really wants to hover in the middle of my mobile screen.

I think he's working on a book, but Jim Leff (of Chowhound.com fame from way back) is obsessed with perceptual framing and writes some interesting stuff about it: https://jimleff.blogspot.com/search/label/perceptual%20frami...

I have found the concept of Framing to be immensely valuable in my personal life. I’d advise anyone who wants to be a better communicator to learn a little bit about it.

What have you found it helped you to do?

Simply the concept that our perceptions can be changed by us. We are not passive consumers of reality, but instead we are active participants.

The biggest example in my personal life was with finding the right medication. At first I was demoralized, but I challenged myself to take it as a long war campaign. That the lessons I learned along the way would one day help others.

Fast forward half a dozen years, half a dozen doctors, and I finally found the right balance of meds. The lessons I learned along the way have and will continue to help people.

As for where I learned about framing, I believe it was from some Pickup Artist material from the early 2000s. I would suggest you learn more from better sources like the book “Influence” by Robert Cialdini

There is a cool video by Jocko called Mind Control. I found it helpful and related: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=meLMFHK7urI

what resources can you suggest?

See above^

I was really hoping this was about wood frame house construction.

Same. Then I decided that couldn’t be it, it must be about creating software frameworks. And, lo, I was wrong a second time.

I was hoping it was about displaying artwork.

I was really hoping this was about how to make a patsy take a fall for an egregious crime I committed.

I am sorely disappointed this didn't explain where to position this object I want to photograph in image space.

I have a recurring data-sync error that I can't seem to diagnose or resolve.

My dad owned a picture framing shop for decades. I wondered why such an article would be on HN.

I'm finding it surprising that many come down to a perspective/point-of-view:

  - art/photo -> viewer perspective
  - patsy -> false perspective
  - data -> message start of protocol
  - stack -> base address in memory
  - mental -> selected dimensions/axes
  - inertial -> selected origin point
Before I would have thought of a frame as a rough cropping of bounds (I'm no artist), but the precise positioning of edges and direction of view can alter the meaning in some.

There's probably an obscure and wonderful web page about that which has never been submitted to HN before.

How did this make it to the top of HN?

It's certainly an interesting topic. It's not good to submit home pages of blogs or content sites to HN though. The discussion has nothing to sink its teeth into beyond the generic theme of the site, and that leads to shallower discussion.



It's much better to submit the most interesting article from a site, the one that goes into the most unexpected specifics. I looked at a bunch of the articles on this site and they all seem pretty lightweight, unfortunately.

Their site has a lot of great content and research, but it's spread out across PDFs, many of which are single-page handouts for practitioners.

For example, here's their in-depth framing memo on STEM education: https://www.frameworksinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/...

It's available a couple links in from the corresponding "Toolkits" page: https://www.frameworksinstitute.org/toolkit/wiring-up/

I clicked in thinking it was along the lines of "how to buy lumber."

I imagine most people here are interested on propaganda tech, for one reason or avoiding the same reason...

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact