How questions are phrased makes all the difference. The specific words used, the tone and undertone of the question, the subject matter emphasized––depending on how a question has been phrased, one can pretty much predict the answer. Psychologists have long understood this concept, referring to it as “the framing effect:”
“The framing effect provides another example in which emotion appears to interfere with a rational decision. In this case, if the identical problem is framed in different ways, the frame affects the decision that is made (Tversky & Kahneman 1981). Consider a situation in which a strategy has to be chosen to deal with the outbreak of a potentially fatal illness. Would you take course of action A which will save 200 people (out of 600), or would you choose the more risky action B? This latter option may save every one, but brings with it the risk that no one will be saved. With this frame (the gain frame), the majority of respondents choose the non-risky course A. The same problem can be framed in a different way. Would you take course of action A which will allow 400 people to die (out of 600), or would you choose the more risky action B. This option may save every one, but brings with it the risk that every one will die? With this frame (the loss frame), the majority of respondents choose the risky course B. The first frame emphasizes the possibility that the risky option may result in more deaths than the safe option. The second frame emphasizes the possibility that the risky option may save more lives than the safe option. In fact, the probabilities are the same in both the cases.”
In each instance the same probabilities occur, yet based on how the question is phrased determines whether action A or B will be chosen. Merely framing the question by emphasizing in precise terms the gains or losses that follow can channel and affect a decision maker’s choice.
The framing effect should not be a surprise. It makes sense that others will draw reasonable inferences when facts are presented in a certain way. Many are unaware of this phenomenon, and phrase their questions without any thought as to how their questions, and thus the issues, in the case are being framed.
In court, the framing effect surely has its place: emphasizing the strongest aspects of one’s case by the precise phrasing of one’s questions. Of course one seeks to accentuate the positive aspects of one’s case, but questions must also anticipate and refute potential defenses. Before the questioning of any witness, a good rule of thumb is to ask: Is this area of questioning one that should be framed in a specific way? If so, what’s the best way of framing this issue? However, use of the framing effect will typically not be enough, in itself, to prevail––the evidence, as always, will ultimately have to carry the day.
 Chris D. Frith, Tania Singer, The Role of Social Cognition in Decision Making, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 363, 3875-3886, Pg. 3881 (October 1, 2008).