James N. Druckman talks with
ScienceWatch.com and answers a few questions about
this month's Fast Moving Front in the field of Economics
Article: Political preference formation:
Competition, deliberation, and the (Ir)relevance of framing
Journal: AMER POLIT SCI REV, 98 (4): 671-686 NOV 2004
Addresses: Univ Minnesota, Dept Polit Sci, 1414 Social
Sci,267 19th Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55455 USA.
Univ Minnesota, Dept Polit Sci, Minneapolis, MN 55455 USA.
Why do you think your paper is highly
The paper explores the robustness of one of the most influential and widely
cited dynamics thought to occur in the course of preference formation:
framing effects. The major works on framing effects come from Amos Tversky
and Daniel Kahneman, who show that people's preferences dramatically shift
due to seemingly innocuous changes in elicitation procedures.
"I hope future work will more
carefully specify the conditions under which
framing effects occur."
For example, people evaluate an employment program differently if told the
program results in 95% employment as opposed to 5% unemployment. If these
types of effects are pervasive, it brings into question the possibility of
coherent preferences, which had been traditionally assumed to exist in the
bulk of the social sciences.
Many have come to take framing effects as a given and have moved away from
assuming coherent preferences. Yet, I question the robustness of the
initial framing effect findings by exploring their existence in realistic
political situations. I focus on competition between frames and the
opportunity for individuals to talk to one other — two defining
features of most democratic politics.
I find that the results of framing effects are generally not robust. Thus,
the paper raises questions about a finding which is among the most
discussed and cited in the social sciences.
Does it describe a new discovery, methodology, or
synthesis of knowledge?
The results suggest that framing effects are conditional, depending on
context and individual differences. As such, the findings partially
reconcile competing accounts of preference formation.
Would you summarize the significance of your paper
in layman's terms?
The paper suggests that, in political settings characterized by
inter-personal discussion and elite competition, people possess the ability
to form coherent preferences. They are not particularly susceptible to
How did you become involved in this research and
were any particular problems encountered along the way?
Much of my work is on preference formation and communication. The main
challenge entailed collecting the large of amount of data needed to achieve
this complex experimental design.
Where do you see your research leading in the
I hope future work will more carefully specify the conditions under which
framing effects occur.
Do you foresee any social or political implications
for your research?
The results suggest that practitioners consider the context under which
people are asked to form opinions and that the setting often plays a
determinative role in whether individuals can form meaningful preferences.
James N. Druckman, Ph.D.
Department of Political Science
Evanston, IL, USA Web