Human behavior is frequently described both in abstract, general terms and in concrete, specific terms. We asked whether these two ways of framing equivalent behaviors shift the inferences people make about the biological and psychological bases of those behaviors. In five experiments, we manipulated whether behaviors are presented concretely (i.e. with reference to a specific person, instantiated in the particular context of that person’s life) or abstractly (i.e. with reference to a category of people or behaviors across generalized contexts). People judged concretely framed behaviors to be less biologically based and, on some dimensions, more psychologically based than the same behaviors framed in the abstract. These findings held true for both mental disorders (Experiments 1 and 2) and everyday behaviors (Experiments 4 and 5), and yielded downstream consequences for the perceived efficacy of disorder treatments (Experiment 3). Implications for science educators, students of science, and members of the lay public are discussed.
Kim, N. S., Johnson, S. G. B., Ahn, W. kyoung, & Knobe, J. (2017). The effect of abstract versus concrete framing on judgments of biological and psychological bases of behavior. Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications, 2(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s41235-017-0056-5