Mental frames

Mental frames are mindsets, or ways that our minds are settled into preferred paths, usually by the values of the people that surround us.

Artwork by Pavel Kuczynski showing the unsustainable mindset

Human brains are wired to be biased to what feels most comfortable and what suits our existing knowledge. This is ‘confirmation bias’, and it is reinforced by the comfort one feels of being accepted by others around you, and seen as normal.

In the Global North, and increasingly everywhere, the dominant mindset is not ecological. In practical terms, most lifestyles are divorced from nature. Communities and their institutions are generally not set up to encourage morals and actions that sustain habitats for other species or for future generations. In fact, they can encourage a mindset that supports the extraction and waste of natural resources. Even if some religions such as Buddhism encourage an ecological morality, this can be overriden by the lure and peer influence of an unsustainable lifestyle.

Even in today’s complex and mixed societies, many are still attracted by tribal ideologies, as they offer the certainty of more fixed or limited mindsets. An ideological mindset has a stronger pull for some people than the mindset that analyses problems and seeks solutions. In addition, many are coerced or brainwashed into these mindsets, and the past three years have seen a weaponisation of social media to encourage ‘identity thinking’ against others.

As part of this movement against cultural and ecological diversity, experts and intellectuals are criticised for not having firm or graspable knowledge, and their evidenced hypotheses are not heeded. Science and other academic research is too often corrupted by industrial and Government agendas that are supportive of industrial lobbyists (e.g. research suppressed into impacts of pesticides). Within science, there is a splitting between different fields, so that scientists are unable to collaborate across disciplines to solve problems. Education systems do not foreground the process of enquiry, or the use of contemporary data and application to emerging problems. Public and media debates are obfuscated by industrial lobbyists, and most strongly from the fossil fuel industries.

In the UK, our political system is lacking in participatory democracy. Decisions are made in order to perpetuate the influence of individuals and their parties. We have a Consumer Identity rather than a Citizen Identity.

In this context, Culture is not understood as being relevant to the basic needs of life, and cultural policymakers do not acknowledge enough the central role of Art, Design and Heritage in helping communities deal with environmental and social challenges.


Discuss together: Do you agree with this story about the dominant mindset? Is anything missing from the story? How is this reflected in your organisation?

Be creative: Can you create a story or an image that explains your view of what is the dominant mindset? Share and discuss these. 

For more on frames of thinking see