A frame of reference, or point of view, refers to the way we look at a given situation. How a person views that situation can affect her understanding of the facts and influence how she determines right from wrong.

Some frames minimize or even omit the ethical aspects of a decision. For example, studies show that if people are prompted to frame a situation only in terms of money or economic interests, they often leave out ethical considerations.

In a famous study, a day care center having difficulty with parents picking up their children on time started charging a fine for being late. Parents then reframed the issue from an ethical one (“It’s not nice of me to burden the staff in this way”) to a business one (“I can buy the staff’s time by paying this fine”). Late pick-ups increased rather than decreased due to this change in the parents’ frame of reference.

So, by remembering to consider the ethical implications of any situation, we can keep ethics in our frame of reference when making decisions.