Speakers’ Choice of Frame Reveals Little about Their Trait Emotions but More about Their Preferences and Risk Perception


People’s decisions depend on how situations are described or framed to them. But how do speakers frame outcomes to others? For instance, what factors predict whether a speaker chooses to frame an investment opportunity in terms of its chances of failure or success? Drawing on the appraisal tendency framework, we investigated whether emotions associated with uncertainty (worry) might increase speakers’ preference for negative framing, whereas emotions associated with certainty (anger) might increase speakers’ preference for positive framing. Across two well-powered preregistered studies (NTot = 1,350), participants responded to measures of dispositional worry and anger and completed framing tasks in different contexts. We told participants that a job applicant/investment in a medical treatment had an estimated chance of failure vs. success (e.g., 40% chance of failure and 60% chance of success) and asked them whether they would describe the predicted outcome to their manager in terms of chances of failure or chances of success. Overall, we found little evidence for our hypothesized influence of dispositional worry and anger on framing using our preregistered analysis. However, exploratory analyses revealed that the predicted associations appeared when participants perceived high levels of risk in the decision scenarios. A stronger effect on frame preference was found for risk perception and willingness to recommend a decision, indicating that frames reveal more about such idiosyncratic responses than about emotional traits. Preregistrations, data, code, and materials can be found at https://osf.io/3e98a/?view_only=35b0be2f36f446acb7261b120763314c.

under review in Collabra: Psychology