Imagine standing at a crossroads, faced with two seemingly identical options. One path gleams with promises of success and prosperity, while the other looms with warnings of failure and despair. How do you decide? Welcome to the world of the framing effect, where the presentation of information can sway decisions and perceptions in profound ways.

It’s not as fanciful as the above imagery describes or as simple as being the type of person who sees the world as being a glass-half-full versus a glass-half-empty. The framing effect influences the lives of speech pathologists daily. And I am going to make the argument here that a simple choice of words can even make our lives more difficult.

Let’s start with an understanding of the framing effect, share a really neat experiment, and then give some examples on how this form of bias is intruding into our lives as speech language pathologists

the framing effect influences SLPs

Understanding the Framing Effect

At its core, the framing effect reveals our innate propensity to respond differently to information based on its presentation. When presented with positively framed options, we tend to gravitate towards safety and certainty, avoiding risks at all costs. Conversely, negative frames often ignite a sense of urgency and risk-taking behavior, compelling us to seek alternatives.

Consider an illuminating medical research study where participants were asked to choose between two treatments for a deadly disease. Treatment A, when positively framed, emphasized saving 200 lives, while the negative frame highlighted the grim prospect of 400 deaths. Despite the identical outcomes, a staggering 72% of participants opted for Treatment A, drawn to its positive framing.

FramingTreatment ATreatment B
Positive“Saves 200 lives”“A 33% chance of saving all 600 people, 66% possibility of saving no one.”
Negative“400 people will die”“A 33% chance that no people will die, 66% probability that all 600 will die.”

The Impact of Framing in Speech Pathology

The framing effect permeates every facet of our lives, including the field of speech pathology. From crafting evaluations to conducting IEP meetings, the language we use can profoundly influence outcomes and perceptions.

Picture this: in an IEP meeting, a speech pathologist announces the dismissal of a student from services. In the past, the message might have been delivered with a negative frame, focusing on what the student no longer qualifies for. However, by reframing the message positively—highlighting the student’s return to full-time classroom integration—the tone shifts, fostering a sense of celebration and collaboration among parents, teachers, and staff.

Similarly, the way we document evaluations can impact how they are perceived by parents, teachers, and administrators. By framing assessment results in a positive light, emphasizing areas of strength and alignment with peers, we can alleviate concerns and foster a sense of empowerment.

How receptive do you think the principal and parents would be to the follow messages? Again, remember they are identical outcomes.

FramingDismissal MeetingsEvaluation Results: Doesn’t Qualify
PositiveWe are happy to say that Jed will be returning to the classroom fulltime.Jed performed all tasks as well as other students his age. 
NegativeWe will be taking away speech services.Jed does not qualify for speech and will not receive additional support as a student in special education.

Navigating the Negative Nuances: A Word of Caution

While harnessing the power of positive framing can yield transformative results, it’s essential to tread carefully. As research suggests, our propensity for negative framing may increase with age and experience. For those of us that are seasoned professionals, we must remain vigilant against the allure of pessimism, consciously striving to infuse our interactions with optimism and hope.

“O youth! youth! you go your way heedless, uncaring – as if you owned all the treasures of the world; even grief elates you, even sorrow sits well upon your brow. You are self-confident and insolent and you say, ‘I alone am alive – behold!’

Ivan Turgenev, First Love. March,1860

What to Watch Out for and How To Avoid the Framing Effect

The framing effect serves as a potent reminder of the influence wielded by language and perception. By harnessing the power of positive framing, we can shape narratives, inspire action, and cultivate collaborative relationships.


  • Speak in positive terms!
  • Remember that the framing effect has consistently been shown to be one of the largest biases in decision making. If you are asking someone to make a decision, share the positive frame.
  • Remember that the effects of framing negatively increase with age. While we all still may see ourselves as the younger version of ourselves, know that the data showed that older subjects were more prone to lead with negative bias.

As speech pathologists, our words have the power to uplift, empower, and transform lives. Let us wield this power wisely, navigating the intricacies of framing with grace, empathy, and intentionality.

7 Types of Bias and How They Affect Speech Language Pathology

This is one of eight essays we wrote on bias, based on the work of Daniel Kahneman and the research we put together for the ASHA CEU course: How Ethics and Biases Shape Our Decisions: A Fun Look at Research on Heuristics. Start with the inspirational article on Daniel Kahneman and then work your way through seven ways our hidden biases can unknowingly influence our thinking.

Overview: Celebrating Daniel Kahneman (3/5/1934 – 3/27/2024) and His Enormous Impact on Bias and Our Work

  1. Navigating Fairness Bias in Our Role as SLPs
  2. Framing Effect: Shaping Perspectives with Words
  3. Understanding Availability Bias: Challenging Perceptions During Evaluations
  4. Deciphering the Conjunction Fallacy – Overlap or Isolation of Disorders?
  5. The Overconfidence Effect – Misperceptions About Amount of SLP Work and How Long it Takes
  6. Embracing Loss Aversion: Balancing Risk and Reward in Speech Pathology
  7. Freedom from the Anchoring Effect: When Numbers Work Against Us

How Ethics and Biases Shape Our Decisions: A Fun Look at Research on Heuristics

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