Asian disease problem

Imagine that you face a difficult decision: your country is preparing for the outbreak of unusual Asian disease, which is expected to kill 600 people. There were two programs proposed to combat the disease. Scientific estimates are these:

A) 200 people will be saved. B) There is 33% probability that 600 people will be saved, and 66% probability that no people will be saved.

Now imagine you were presented with alternative proposals:

C) 400 people will die. D) There is 33% probability that nobody will die, and 66% probability that 600 people will die.

If you read carefully, you will notice that both of these group of proposals are essentially the same—200 people saved means that remaining 400 will die (A-C) and 600 people saved means that everyone will be saved (B-D).

This was an experiment performed by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman to demonstrate how framing of the choices can affect the outcome. Results were surprising, to say the least: When first group of people were presented with choices A and B, majority of participants (72%) preferred program A. However, when another group of participants were presented with choices C and D, majority (78%) preferred program D. In other words, when choices were framed in terms of lives saved, participants preferred a secure program (A), but when choices were framed in terms of expected deaths, participants chose to gamble (D).

This is a good reminder that even we’re presented with facts, our opinion could be affected by framing. We should be careful—it’s easy to perceive things how they are presented without questioning.

Rolandas Barysas
Hello, my name is Rolandas Barysas. I write software for a living, splitting my time between freelancing and personal projects.