There is a dichotomy in framing research that can be traced back to its multidisciplinary origins in psychology and sociology. Definitions of framing rooted in psychology are concerned with the differential presentation of the otherwise identical information and are often referred to as equivalence framing. Definitions rooted in more sociological traditions investigate how a message can be constructed with different sets of information to highlight contrasting perspectives on the same issue. The latter is typically referred to as emphasis framing. Although often subsumed under the same label, equivalence framing and emphasis framing are systematically different, both conceptually and operationally. Therefore, the two traditions need to be carefully distinguished in terms of their origins, conceptualization and operationalization of frames, underlying mechanisms, cognitive outcomes, and their relationships with other media effects theories. Categorizing existing studies revealed two major pitfalls in framing effects literatures. First, many political communication studies to date have adopted the emphasis framing approach. However, as substantial manipulation of information introduces confounding variables making it difficult for researchers to attribute the effect on the audience to the change of frames, this approach has relatively low internal validity in experiments and can hardly be distinguished from other cognitive media effects models, such as agenda setting and priming. Thus, the bias toward emphasis framing needs to be addressed by conducting research with equivalence frames so that a more concrete causal relationship between message framing and its effects can be established. In addition, little attention has been given to visuals in framing effects research so far. Considering that people consume information in a multimedia environment online, visual frames and verbal-visual interactions need to be further investigated.
Jiawei Liu and Dietram A. Scheufele
Political communicators have long used framing as a tactic to try to influence the opinions and political decisions of others. Frames capture an essence of a political issue or controversy, typically the essence that best furthers a communicator’s political goals. Framing has also received much attention by scholars; indeed, the framing literature is vast. In the domain of political decision making, one useful distinction is between two types of frames: emphasis frames and equivalence frames. Emphasis frames present an issue by highlighting certain relevant features of the issue while ignoring others. Equivalence frames present an issue or choice in different yet logically equivalent ways. Characterizing the issue of social welfare as a drain on the government budget versus a helping hand for poor people is emphasis framing. Describing the labor force as 95% employed versus 5% unemployed is equivalency framing. These frames differ not only by their content but also by the effects on opinions and judgements that result from frame exposure as well as the psychological processes that account for the effects. For neither emphasis nor equivalence frames, however, are framing effects inevitable. Features of the environment, such as the presence of competing frames, or individual characteristics, such as political predispositions, condition whether exposure to a specific frame will influence the decisions and opinions of the public.