A framing effect in the judgment of discrimination

Christopher K. Hsee (First Author), Xilin Li (Participant Author)

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal


Discrimination is not only an objective fact but also a subjective judgment. While extensive research has studied discrimination as an objective fact, we study the judgment of discrimination and show that it is malleable while holding objective discrimination constant. We focus on a common situation in real life: the constituent groups in a candidate pool are unequal (e.g., fewer female candidates than male candidates for tech jobs), and observers (e.g., the public) see only one side of the decision outcome (e.g., only the hired applicants, not the rejected ones). Ten experiments reveal a framing effect: people judge the decision-maker (e.g., the tech firm) as more discriminatory against the minority in the candidate pool if people see the composition of the accepted candidates than if they see the composition of the rejected candidates, even though the information in the two frames is equivalent (i.e., knowing the information in one frame is sufficient to infer the information in the other). The framing effect occurs regardless of whether the decision-maker is objectively discriminatory, replicates across diverse samples (Americans, Asians, and Europeans) and types of discrimination (e.g., gender, race, political orientation), and has significant behavioral consequences. We theorize and show that the framing effect arises because, when judging discrimination, people overlook information that they could infer but is not explicitly given, and they expect equality in the composition of the constituent groups in their given frame. This research highlights the fallibility of judged discrimination and suggests interventions to reduce biases and increase accuracy.
Original languageEnglish
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number47
Publication statusPublished - 2022

Corresponding author email



  • accept-reject framing
  • gender discrimination
  • hiring decisions
  • judgment biases
  • racial discrimination

Indexed by

  • SCIE


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