What are frames?


What is a frame?

Frames are interconnected neural structures that understand how the world works. You have frames for the way the physical world works as well as for abstract ideas such as empathy.

How are frames formed?

Brains are literally wired and rewired through experience. The resulting frames are strengthened through repetition or weakened through disuse. As you move about the world your brain makes judgments by consulting the frames built into your brain through experience.

Frames are remarkably resistant to change

If they weren’t, we’d have to learn the same things over and over! It makes sense on a physical level: the neural pathways are physical structures strengthened over time. Changing them requires new experience repeated enough to build different pathways (or, as we shall see, by shifting to a different frame a person already has).

The resistance to change, however, is so strong that if a fact does not fit the frame the fact loses. The brain will resist!

Ideas that require people to reorganize their picture of the world provoke hostility. -James Gleick

Challenges to someone’s accepted beliefs often strengthens them, no matter what the reality is! Think about how your blood boils every time you hear a climate change denier; well, your brain is boiling too, bringing up (and reinforcing) every argument you have about climate change and everything you feel about anti-science conservatives. This serves to strengthen your neural pathways to all of those ideas. The same thing happens when you challenge someone else’s beliefs – and remember, voters have unconsciously absorbed a great many conservative frames.

Frames depend on who you are

lesXptEveryone’s experiences are different, so their frames are different.


What is a guitar to you…


…is a Gibson Les Paul to a musician.


To a vintage guitar collector, it’s a rare 1959 Gibson lefty Les Paul Electric Guitar worth 194,0000 dollars!


The very same event, object or idea is a qualitatively different experience for each individual. In a very real way, there are as many ways to view the world as there are people to view it. We filter the world through our existing frames and, because everyone’s frames are different, you may believe you are being perfectly clear when what you said is not exactly what the person heard.

Frames are adopted from cultural sources

Every human is part of a culture that includes existing systems of thought. We take on the more abstract and complex values of parents, schools, people we trust or admire, religions, political parties and social groups.

We also consult trusted sources. Trusted sources are very influential messengers! This is why companies pay gobs of money to sports stars for endorsements.

Repetition strengthens frames

Repeating your progressively framed message strengthens it in your listener. When we all repeat well framed progressive messages we prepare prepare voters to accept our worldview. This can be a long process -and conservatives have a 40 year head start on us!

Repetition also strengthens your opponent’s frames when we speak them -even to refute them. It is crucially important that we stop and consider what is being said and what conservative frames and code words are being used so we can avoid using them and shift out of the conservative frame.

Frames can become so strong that we forget where they came from

The notion that taxes of any sort are inherently bad is a powerful conservative frame. It is so pervasive we don’t even notice that when we use the term “tax relief”, it works against us. Let’s take apart those words.

The word “relief” implies that taxes are a burden one needs to be relieved of.

Those upon whom the burden falls are victims.

Those responsible for imposing the burden are villains.

Those who work to relieve the burden are heroes.

All that from two words! That’s the power of effective framing.

Make a habit of examining your words. Make sure you are not repeating conservative frames and make sure you are crafting messages from our frames.