If you feel it is because you read it:
The effects of emotional framing on attitudes and behaviors about Colombia’s “Citizens’
Beatriz Sarabia Jiménez (13342274) Master’s Thesis
Graduate School of Communication Master’s programme Communication Science
Word Count: 7,465
Supervised by: Dr. S.A.M Vermeer July 1, 2022
Safety concerns are one of the most prominent issues in Latin-American societies.
Citizens often rely on national media outlets to be informed about public safety whilst
governments attempt to stop criminality by enforcing public policies. In Colombia, the media employs specific frames to address unsafety. The present study, thus, aims for gaining insight into how these frames can influence citizens’ views about the recently approved Ley de Seguridad Ciudadana “Citizen’s Safety Law” policy. By testing the effects of three emotional frames on political attitudes and behaviors toward the before-mentioned policy, this work also accounts for the complexity of the Colombian social context. Using an online survey-embedded experiment (N = 169) it analyzes how responsibility-attribution, fear, and empathy frames impact opinions around the “Citizen’s Safety Law” policy. Specifically, attitudes and support for
punitive and preventive measures. The findings indicate that a responsibility-attribution frame (i.e., stressing criminals’ wrongdoing) does not affect attitudes or support for punitive policies.
In contrast, fear frames (i.e., stressing unsafety as an uncontrollable and alarming situation) and, empathy frames (i.e., stressing criminals as victims of social circumstances) positively influence attitudes towards preventive policies, but not the support for them. Moreover, it demonstrates that individuals’ personal experiences with unsafety diminish their positive attitudes toward preventive policies.
If you feel it is because you read it:
The effects of emotional framing on attitudes and behaviors about Colombia’s “Citizens’
In November 2021, the government of the current president of Colombia, Iván Duque Márquez, filed the ‘Ley de Seguridad Ciudadana’ (Citizens’ Safety Bill) before the Congress of Colombia as an urgent message to modify articles within the Colombian Penal Code. The law was approved in January 2022, contemplating new boundaries on weapons regulation, police procedures, and imprisonment time for offenders (Congreso de la República de Colombia, 2021).
For some political sectors, the policy seeks to protect the citizenry from the wave of violence and criminality throughout the country. Contrastingly, several crime experts and members of the government’s opposition assert that the law is a government’s attempt to criminalize social protest, which encourages citizens to arm themselves as it promotes punitive and retributive measures (El Tiempo, 2021; El Espectador 2021; Ospina & Lombo, 2021).
Despite the recent debate, safety has always been a highly contested topic among the citizenry both in urban and rural areas of Colombia (Prager & Hameleers, 2021). According to the Global Organized Crime Index, Colombia is second after the Democratic Republic of Congo in terms of homicides, theft, and criminality rates (Becerra, 2021). Consequently, unsafety is a recurrent issue in opinion polls, presidential candidates’ discourse, media agendas, and people’s everyday lives (Betancur Peláez, 2022; Cárdenas Ruiz, 2015; Prager & Hameleers, 2021).
Concerning this, national media outlets have played a major role in how public safety is communicated and, potentially, in how citizens build their perspectives about it, as the media emphasizes certain interpretations of unsafety over others. In communication, this practice is known as framing (De Vreese, 2012; Entman, 1993). An example is a study by Keum et. al.
(2005), who found that after the 9/11 attacks, the individual framing of extremist groups led to higher polarization and security concerns among U.S. citizens. Similarly, Parrott et. al. (2020) determined that framing immigrants’ stories using a political or human-interest frame in Twitter posts, was positively related to perceptions of immigration either as a safety threat or an
opportunity to aid immigrants to settle in.
By relying on Episodic and Thematic Framing theory (Iyengar, 1991), Cognitive Appraisal theory (Nabi, 2003; Lazarus, 1991; Smith & Ellsworth, 1985), Appraisal Tendency Framework (Lerner & Keltner, 2000), and empirical studies in framing effects on policy attitudes and behaviors (Aaroe, 2011; Gross, 2008; Kühne & Schemer, 2013; Kühne, et. al, 2015, 2021;
Nabi, 2003; Pagano & Huo, 2007); this study examines how emotional frames exert an influence on safety policy views. Specifically, this study aims for understanding how Colombian young citizens assess and whether they support Colombia’s “Citizens’ Safety” law.
Moreover, in line with several Latin-American studies (García Marrugo, 2008, 2013; Rey et. al., 2007; Roncallo Dow, 2007; Zunino & Focás, 2018), it is argued that responsibility-
attribution, fear, and empathy frames are the most recurrent in Colombian media depictions of public safety. Additionally, it is asserted that given the particularities of the Colombian
background, framing effects are also moderated by personal experiences with overall unsafety.
To our knowledge, this aspect has not been addressed by emotional framing literature yet.
Only two studies hold similar accounts about personal experiences’ influence (De Bruycker, 2015; Lerner et. al., 2003). Nonetheless, it did not answer whether these encounters had a moderating role or not in subsequent opinions about national safety policies. Past studies have focused on the moderation effects of issue relevance, gender, political ideology, and prior knowledge (Boukes, 2022; Gault & Sabini, 2000; Lecheler et. al., 2009; Nelson et. al., 1997).
For that reason, understanding how encounters with criminality might moderate framing effects on judgments is vital provided that these episodes are likely to leave strong emotional
impressions (Spiller et. al., 2019).
In sum, this study strives for bringing forward a non-western point of view by means of an online experiment among young Colombian adults, given that most scholars’ work has been primarily based on the United States and European contexts. In that sense, Colombia’s setting poses a highly complex social background that enhances the external validity of previous findings in the field (Ryffel et. al., 2014). Besides, given the Latin-American scenario
characteristics (e.g., historical conflict, social protest, media systems, and distribution of wealth), further understanding of social context factors’ influence on framing effects can be acquired.
Also, new accounts for polarization phenomena in developing countries could be established, as well as its repercussions on democratic systems. All in all, this work seeks to answer the
following research question:
RQ: To what extent does framing (i.e., responsibility-attribution, fear, and empathy frames) affect attitudes and support for Colombia’s Citizens Safety Bill (Ley de Seguridad Ciudadana), and what is the role of personal experiences with unsafety?
Theoretical framework Framing effects in the context of Colombia
Entman (1993) posits that framing is “selecting some aspects of a perceived reality and making them more salient in a communicating text in such fashion that it promotes a particular problem definition, causal interpretation, moral evaluation, and/or treatment recommendation”
(p.52). When translated into the political news realm, this implies that media organizations and journalists make editorial choices so the topics of interest are more digestible to the audience.
These choices, however, influence political attitudes and behaviors when certain frames get more visibility among the public and contribute to shaping the discourse (Schnell & Callaghan, 2001).
Yet, years of research on framing theory have led to acknowledgment that the way frames are either adopted or not by audiences is highly dependent on individual differences both at the personal and context level (Valkenburg et. al., 2016).
Regarding the Colombian media landscape, there is a historical link between the press and the main political forces in the country (Hallin & Papathanassopoulos, 2002). High levels of political parallelism, clientelism, low professionalization of the activity, and the late
development of the democracy, are some of the elements that have contributed to the degree of media instrumentalization in favor of right-wing governments like the one of the current president Iván Duque (Hallin & Papathanassopoulos, 2002; Mancini & Hallin, 2004).
Consequently, it seems plausible that the news coverage about the “Citizens’ Safety Law”
employs frames that highlight the necessity to implement these measures (e.g., higher imprisonment time, no penal responsibility for using weapons in case of private property trespassing, and non-lethal weapon possession permit) to tackle unsafety statistics.
More importantly, as a result of Colombia’s public safety issue saliency and importance, framing effects are likely to affect attitudes and political behaviors provided that the context makes it an easily accessible topic in the audience’s memory-stored information (De Vreese, 2005; Lecheler et. al., 2009). So, when media outlets present news about unsafety and stress certain aspects of it, these frames can later exert an influence on how the recipient recalls and interprets the issue as well as the policies related to it (Scheufele & Tewksbury, 2007).
Nonetheless, cognitive processes are not the only mechanisms that frames can activate. In recent years, research has shown that emotions are also involved in the framing assimilation
process. These can be equally or even stronger predictors and/or mediators of attitudes and behaviors about the issue at stake. The Emotional Appraisal theory and the Cognitive Functional Model (Nabi, 1999; Lazarus, 1993; Ortony, 2022, Smith & Ellsworth, 1985), claim that our mind uses multiple parameters to assess an external situation or event (i.e., valence, personal
relevance, controllability, certainty, responsibility, and pleasantness), also known as cognitive appraisals. Similarly, when a person reads news about unsafety, the way information is described motivates an internal response that activates some of these appraisals. In turn, an emotion is triggered, influencing perceptions, evaluations, decisions, or behavioral intentions towards the issue (Nabi, 1999, 2003). According to the Appraisal Tendency Framework (Han et. al., 2007;
Lerner & Keltner; 2000), specific emotions own specific action tendencies to respond to the issue that caused the emotion in the first place. Thus, depending on the elicited emotion, subsequent attitudes and behaviors can be predicted.
According to Kühne et al. (2015), responsibility-attribution frames feature specific causal agents of negative actions and explicitly signal them for their intentional wrongdoing (Kühne, 2014). In turn, anger is elicited, which is a predictor of negative attitudes and support for punitive measures (Kühne & Schemer, 2013; Kühne et. al., 2015). In Chile and Argentina, studies by Altamirano Molina (2007) and Zunino and Focás (2018) identified that the main news frames about common crime “delincuencia común”, tended to attribute responsibilities to individual actors. Based on the literature and given the similarities between these two countries and the Colombian context, it is therefore expected that:
H1: A news frame of Colombia’s Citizens Safety Law stressing criminals’ wrongdoing (vs. non-stressing it) positively affects citizens’ (a) attitudes and (b) support for punitive policies.
Similarly, Smith and Ellsworth (1985) theorized that frames depicting a situation as negative, highly relevant, uncertain, unpleasant, and uncontrollable can elicit fear in connection to the need to find a solution to the threat. Through an experiment, Nabi (2003) tested the effects of fear frames by signaling the riskiness of drunk driving. The results showed that participants’
preferred risk-averse and remedial policies over retributive measures against drunk drivers. In Colombia, Roncallo Dow (2007) found that fear is a recurrent element in news depictions of unsafety. His results show that El Tiempo and El Colombiano, two of the main media outlets in the country, use a narrative that stresses crime as out of control and portrays victims’ suffering as unbearable.
The former is also linked to empathy, which is a combination between pity and sympathy that arises when the news’ focus lies on victims’ suffering or a harsh condemnation of
victimizers (Gault & Sabini, 2000; Gross, 2018; Kühne, 2014; Pagano & Huo, 2007). In their articles, Gross (2008) and Aaroe (2011) demonstrated that after eliciting empathy with the story of a drug offender, where the unfairness of her social circumstances was stressed, participants were more likely to support a shorter prison sentence and advocated for her forgiveness.
Therefore, similar to fear frames, empathy frames are associated with the need for protection and preventive policies that do not seek to punish but to be more compassionate about other’s
situation. Pagano and Huo (2007), for example, determined that empathy for Iraqi citizens was a predictor of support for welfare policies towards them. Therefore, and in line with Roncallo Dow's (2007) findings, it is posited that empathy frames are also used to portray unsafety in Colombia. Yet, it is important to account for the possibility that victimizers are also presented as
‘victims’ of the social circumstances as Altamirano Molina (2007) explains. Hence, given the empirical evidence and the analysis of the Colombian context, it can be safely hypothesized that:
H2: A news frame of Colombia’s Citizens Safety Law stressing unsafety as an
uncontrollable and alarming situation and a frame stressing criminals as victims of social circumstances (vs. non-stressing it) positively affects citizens’ (a) preferences and (b) support for preventive policies.
Episodic and thematic framing on preferences and support for public policies
The study of emotional frames goes in hand with the visible changes the journalistic practice has gone through in the last decades. Plenty of political topics are often sensationalized using emotional language, which is believed to engage the public better than traditional reporting (Gross, 2008; Ryffel et. al., 2014). According to Episodic and Thematic Framing Theory
(Iyengar, 1991), political news about issues like unsafety, can trigger and engage the audience into stronger emotional reactions if the news story is communicated using personal or ‘more human’ stories, also known as episodic frames. These frames mention specific actors instead of impersonal or general depictions of societal issues, namely, thematic frames.
The extent to which emotional reactions infuse subsequent opinions and behaviors towards public policies has been previously addressed in framing literature. A recent example is a study by Renström and Bäck (2021), who found that after exposing a sample of Swedish participants to a news article that emphasized COVID-19 severity, fear and anger feelings made them advocate for stricter health policies. Likewise, in the Netherlands, Verkuyten (2004) discovered that after exposing participants to information about the immigration wave and immigrants' situations, empathy and anger feelings positively predicted asylum policies support and rejection, respectively. Another example is the work by van den Heijkant (2021), who established that stressing individual or collective responsibility influenced citizens’ attitudes
towards the pension systems in the Netherlands. Moreover, stronger effects were found when one of the two was depicted as unjust.
In what refers to the Colombian and Latin American context, several content analyses show that episodic framing or the use of personal stories is a widespread journalistic practice for reporting on criminality (Rey et. al., 2007; Zunino & Focás, 2018). Furthermore, this style reflects the sensationalization and commoditization of the news. For these reasons, the present study assumes this narrative style to be present in the vast majority of the news-production process of public safety.
The moderating effect of personal experiences with unsafety in Colombia
The last Survey of Coexistence and Citizen Security indicated that about 11 percent of the Colombian population was a victim of criminality between 2018 and 2020 (Portafolio, 2021).
When a person experiences a trauma, for example, as a result of being involved in or exposed to a criminal or unsafe situation (e.g., being robbed, physically assaulted, sexually harassed, threatened, or injured), it is arguable that he or she will construct different beliefs and attitudes toward such criminal activity/behavior than a person who has not directly experienced this (Spiller et. at., 2019). More importantly, these differences might well interfere with how the proposed responsibility-attribution, fear, and empathy frames are assimilated.
To clarify this question, we refer to the Differential Susceptibility to Media Effects Model (DSMM) by Valkenburg and Peter (2013). This model postulates that the interplay between individual differences and social context factors determines the likelihood of framing effects occurring. More specifically, the disposition-content congruency hypothesis establishes that a ‘cognitive schema’ in the form of prior emotions, attitudes, beliefs, and behavior is essential even before individuals expose themselves to news content about a topic like unsafety
(Valkenburg et. al., 2016). Furthermore, Leventhal and Scherer (1987) posit that life events or experiences are built in the form of ‘emotional schemata’, which is an important factor for subsequent effects. The more developed schemas about a topic are, the less effort it takes for a frame to retrieve the emotions associated with it.
The context-content congruency hypothesis, on the other hand, entails that people are more susceptible to frames if these reflect the environment where the audience is embedded. To be more specific, Valkenburg and Peter (2013) explain that this phenomenon comes from the term ‘resonance’ in Cultivation theory, which refers to the ‘double effect’ a framed content may have when it matches the social background where it is consumed.
Considering the cited research literature and the empirical evidence about unsafety in Colombia, the present paper argues that the emotional schemata in relation to unsafety are greater in citizens who have had a personal experience with criminality compared to those who have not. Moreover, given that the population recognizes unsafety as a latent problem, the level of recall and feelings about this issue is high.
Based on this assumption, it is hypothesized that subjects experience a double effect if they recall individual experiences with unsafety as these are closer to their own context. In consequence, the following hypotheses are formulated for each of the three frames:
H3: The positive effect of a news frame of Colombia’s Citizens Safety Law stressing criminals’ responsibility (vs. non-responsibility) on citizens’ (a) attitudes and (b) support for punitive policies will be stronger for citizens who have had an encounter with
unsafety compared to citizens who have not.
H4: The positive effect of a news frame of Colombia’s Citizens Safety Law stressing unsafety as an uncontrollable situation (vs. non-stressing it) on citizens’ (a) attitudes and
(b) support for preventive policies will be stronger for citizens who have had an encounter with unsafety compared to citizens who have not.
H5: The positive effect of a news frame of Colombia’s Citizens Safety Law stressing criminals are victims of social circumstances (vs. non-stressing it) on citizens’ (a)
preferences and (b) support for preventive policies will be stronger for citizens who have not had an encounter with unsafety compared to citizens who have.
Method Study Design
An online survey-embedded experiment was conducted using Qualtrics. A factorial 3 (frame: responsibility-attribution frame, fear frame, vs. empathy frame) x 2 quasi-experimental factor (personal experience with unsafety: yes vs. no) between-subjects experimental design with a control group was conducted. Participants were randomly assigned to one of the four
A pilot study was administered from the 11th of May until the 12th of May 2022. The main study was carried out from the 13th of May until the 29th of the same year.
The experiment was conducted among a convenient sample of 260 Colombian undergraduate students of the Universidad Externado de Colombia in Bogotá, Colombia.
Participants were recruited by using tutors' access to class groups. 122 cases were excluded (i.e., due to excluding criteria of the age range and non-responsiveness of the dependent variable). The final sample consisted of 138 participants aged between 18 and 30 years (M = 24.16, SD = 3.68), which is the age range of students in the Bachelor’s program and correspondent to what is stipulated in the Colombian Youth Statutory Law (Congreso de la República de Colombia,
2013). 43.4 percent of the respondents were male. Socioeconomic status, is an indicator from 1 (poor) to 6 (rich) strata of a residence and its residents' wealthiness (M = 3.63, SD = 1.04).
A pilot study was administered in order to assess the stimulus materials and measures among a subsample of 30 participants aged between 18 and 58 years (M = 28.82, SD = 12.90).
69 percent were female. After the pilot, the main study was conducted. To begin with,
participants read and agreed with informed consent, which also indicated that upon successful participation, they could be awarded one gift card in an online shop. Next, they were asked about demographic variables. Both during the pilot and the main study, they were randomly and evenly assigned by Qualtrics to one of the three experimental conditions or the control group. The distribution was as follows: Responsibility-attribution frame (n = 37); Fear frame (n = 36);
Empathy frame (n = 32), and the control condition (n = 33). See Table 1 for a full overview.
Next, participants were forced to spend at least 40 seconds reading the stimulus material to ensure attention. To enhance the external validity, the main text was based on an existing online news article from RCN Radio, one of the main media outlets in Colombia (RCN Radio, 2022). By following the procedure of Kühne et. al. (2015), the independent variable of frame type was manipulated by changing the headline, lead, and two lines of a body paragraph. The Citizen’s Safety Law was mentioned in the lead. Additionally, one sentence using a personal story with unsafety was included to highlight the episodic framing element across conditions.
The remaining text was kept identical.
The layout was devised using Photoshop to give it the look and feel of an online news website. A generic picture of the Colombian flag was also included to make it visually appealing.
Each article included a variation corresponding to the specific frame. As of the responsibility-
attribution frame, the news item stressed how criminals were the main ones responsible for the wave of unsafety that Colombia is going through and how their crimes were left unpunished. The fear frame, on the other hand, focused on how negative, uncertain, and uncontrollable the current safety situation in the country is. Conversely, the empathy frame stressed that criminality is a result of a bigger social problem where criminals are also victims of inequality conditions.
Lastly, the control group read plain statistics about the unsafe situation across the country. The full version of the articles can be found in the Appendix.
Following the stimulus material, all participants answered several questions, namely the two dependent variables, the manipulation check1, a scale of emotions, familiarity with the issue, and the moderator variable along the time when unsafety was experienced. Upon completion of the full questionnaire, participants were debriefed about the fictionality of the texts and the purpose of the study.
To verify randomization, a Chi-square test determined that participants’ gender was not significantly different X2 (3, N = 138) = 2.823, p = .420, V = .14 among the four groups. This indicates successful randomization.
1 During the pilot study, a manipulation check using Chi-square test was conducted. The analysis determined that the relationship between the conditions participants were assigned to, and their answer about which frame had been stressed in the article was marginally significant X2 (9, N = 30) = 9.21, p = .10, V = .34. for the four experimental groups. All cells had expected counts less than 5 and 3 cells were empty, meaning that the sample was not sufficiently big for finding reliable results. After completion of the main study, a new Chi-square test once again indicated that the relationship was not significant X2 (2, N = 138) = 13.237, p = .15, V = .15. The correspondence between the assigned condition and the answer was as follows: Responsibility-attribution frame (1%); Fear frame (40%); Empathy frame (74.2%); and Control (15.6%). In consequence, we might attribute manipulation check failure to memory effects and the complexity of the manipulation check question.
Attitudes towards punitive policies were assessed using a 7-point Likert scale (1 = completely disagree, 7 = completely agree) by asking participants to rate their agreement on seven items, (e.g., “Those who commit the same crime three times should receive life in prison by default”, “In general, sentences for crimes are too low”). A higher score indicated a greater preference for punitive policies. Thereafter, a PAF (Principal Axis Factoring) was performed to establish the measurement’s validity. The analysis demonstrated that all items loaded to one factor, with a single point of inflection after the factor on the scree plot. This factor explained 49.5 percent of the variance in the seven items (EV = 3.45). The scale proved to be highly reliable (M = 30.6, SD = 9.72, α = .83). The new scale was created by computing the mean of all seven items (M = 4.34, SD = 1.39). Similarly, attitudes towards preventive policies was measured with a 7-point Likert scale (1 = completely disagree, 7 = completely agree) by asking participants to rate their agreement on eight items (e.g., “A released prisoner must be helped to find a suitable place in society to prevent reoffending”, “To prevent criminal behavior,
professional advice is necessary.”). Next, a PAF indicated that items loaded into two factors. The initial solution was rotated using direct oblimin, after which the analysis still showed a second factor but, with all negative loadings. A single scale was assumed when revising a scree plot where a single point of inflection was displayed after the first factor. This factor explained 38.9 percent of the variance in the eight items (EV = 3.11) with a high reliability (M = 43.4, SD = 6.31, α = .77). Finally, all means of the eight items were computed into a new variable (M = 5.49, SD = .79). The totality of the measures was based on the scales of punitive and preventive policies by Armborst (2017) and Butter et. al. (2013)2. See Appendix C for the full questionnaire.
2 For the pilot study, two different scales were tested among participants to measure punitive and preventive measures according to the procedure by Kühne & Schemer (2014). Nonetheless, items proved to have minimal reliability: Attitudes towards punitive measures (M = 10.35, SD = 3.38, α = .37); attitudes towards preventive measures (M = 15.05, SD = 3.65, α = .45). For that reason, and given time constraints for running a new pilot study,
The second and third dependent variables, support towards punitive policies and support towards preventive policies were both assessed using a 7-point Likert scale (1 = completely disagree, 7 = completely agree) by asking participants “On a scale from 1 to 7, how likely is it that you will vote for a presidential candidate who implements punitive measures?”, and “On a scale from 1 to 7, how likely is it that you will vote for a presidential candidate who implements preventive measures?”. A higher score indicated greater support for a candidate that would implement punitive policies (M = 4.37, SD = 1.83) and/or preventive policies (M = 5.36, SD = 1.26).
The moderating variable of personal experience with unsafety was measured as a dichotomous variable where participants answered (0 = no, 1 = yes) to the question “Have you ever experienced any kind of episode associated with the unsafety our country is going through?
For example: being robbed, physically assaulted, sexually harassed, threatened, or injured in any way” (No = 13.3 percent, Yes = 86.7 percent). If the participant answered yes, the following question was asked: “Please indicate in months when was the last time you were a victim of unsafety?” (Less than a month = 8.5 percent, 1-3 months = 10.4 percent, 4-6 months = 9.4 percent, 7-9 months = 4.7 percent, 10-12 months = 10.4 percent, more than 1 year ago = 56.6 percent).
Besides age, gender, and socioeconomic status, the questionnaire also covered political self-placement. This was assessed by asking participants “In politics, one speaks about ‘left’ or
‘right’, ‘1’ means someone who is fully ‘left-aligned’, while ‘10’ is someone who is fully ‘right-
the scales by Armborst (2017) and Butter et. al. (2013) have been used. The new scales proved to be sufficiently reliable.
aligned’. When you think about your own position, where would you place yourself on this scale?”. The higher the score, the more leaned towards the right (M = 4.84, SD = 1.87).
Next, questions regarding elicited emotions were incorporated in the questionnaire in order to identify which emotions were associated with each frame. By means of a 7-point Likert scale, (1 = not at all, 7 = totally applies) participants indicated their degree of sadness (M = 4.08, SD = 1.91), anger (M = 4.46, SD = 1.92), anxiety (M = 3.70, SD = 2.01), desire (M = 1.55, SD = 1.22), disgust (M = 2.60, SD = 1.86), relaxation (M = 1.39, SD = 1.14), happiness (M = 1.42, SD
= 1.07), and empathy (M = 3.52, SD = 1.71). The question was “On a scale from 1 to 7, to what extend do you feel any of the following emotions after reading the previous article?”. The eight emotions were chosen based on prior literature (Orthony; 2021; Plutchik, 2001).
In order to test the six hypotheses, several Ordinal Least Squares (OLS) regressions were conducted with a total of eleven models. Each of the three frames was included by means of a dummy variable with the control condition serving as a reference category whilst controlling for age, gender, political self-placement, elicited emotions, and socioeconomic status. The same model was adopted for each of the four dependent variables, namely attitudes and support for punitive or preventive policies. Lastly, the moderating variable was added on separate models per frame using the following interaction terms: Cond_1*Personal_exp, Cond_2*Personal_exp, and Cond_3*Personal_exp.
Results Table 1
Overview and Descriptive Statistics of Experimental Conditions and Control Group
For the purpose of testing H1, “A news frame about Colombia’s Citizens Safety Law that stresses criminals’ responsibility (vs. non-stressing responsibility) positively affects citizens’ (a) attitudes and (b) support for punitive policies”; two models of regression were performed. The first model included the three frames: responsibility-attribution, fear, and empathy as the main predictors of attitudes towards punitive policies. The reference category was the control condition. Additionally, age, gender, political self-placement, socioeconomic status, sadness, fear, anxiety, desire, disgust, desire, happiness, and relaxation were included as control variables.
The model was statistically significant, F(15, 143) = 4.66, p = < .001. Therefore, it was assumed appropriate to predict attitudes toward punitive policies in the population. The variance in each of the three frames, age, gender, political self-placement, socioeconomic status, and the eight emotions explained 33 percent of the variance in the average attitudes toward punitive policies (R2 = .33). Contrary to what was hypothesized in H1, participants' exposure to a responsibility- attribution frame did not have a significant effect on their attitudes towards punitive policies compared to the reference category, b = –.056, t = –0.20, p = .840, 95% CI [–0.61, 0.49]. Model 2 contemplated the same variables as Model 1 but, with support for punitive policies as the dependent variable. The control frame represented the reference category. The model was statistically significant, F(15, 143) = 4.90, p = < .001. Thus, it is suitable for predicting support
for punitive policies in the population3. The variance in each of the three frames, age, gender, political self-placement, socioeconomic status, and the eight emotions explained 34 percent of the variance in the average support for punitive policies (R2 = .34). Participants' exposure to a responsibility-attribution frame did not have a significant effect on their support for punitive policies compared to the control reference category, b = .566, t = 1.53, p = .129, 95% CI [–0.17, 1.30]. (See Model 1 and Model 2 in Table 2). Ultimately, the results indicate that news frames that stress criminals’ responsibility and intentional wrongdoing, do not affect someone’s attitudes or behaviors toward punitive policies. In summary, we found no support for H1.
To test H2, “A news frame about Colombia’s Citizens’ Safety Law that stresses unsafety as an uncontrollable and alarming situation and a frame stressing unsafety as a social problem where criminals are victims of social circumstances (vs. non-stressing any interpretation) positively affects citizens’ (a) attitudes and (b) support for preventive policies”, multiple
regression analyses were conducted. In Model 3, the main variables were the three experimental frames, and attitudes toward preventive policies was the dependent variable. The control
condition was used as the reference category. The analyses showed that Model 3 was statistically significant, F(15, 143) = 2.81, p = <.001. In turn, we assume it predicts attitudes toward
preventive policies in the population. The variance in responsibility-attribution, fear, and empathy frames apart from age, gender, political self-placement, socioeconomic status, and the eight emotions explained 23 percent of the variance in the average attitudes toward preventive policies (R2 = .23). Therefore, as stated in H2, participants' exposure to a fear condition b = .468, t = 2.56, p = .011, 95% CI [0.11, 0.83] or empathy frame b = .418, t = 2.25, p = .026, 95% CI [0.51, 0.79] had a significant effect on their attitudes toward preventive policies compared to the
3 In spite of the significancy of the model, a scatterplot of the residuals shows a pattern of heteroscedasticity.
control condition reference category. Hence, exposing subjects to a fear frame positively predicts an increase of .468 units in their attitudes towards preventive policies, whereas, empathy predicts an increase of .418 units. (See Model 3 in Table 2). An additional model was included to test whether the empathy or fear frame had the strongest effect on attitudes towards preventive policies. The empathy condition was used as the reference category. The analysis proved the model to be statistically significant, F(15, 143) = 2.61, p = .002. The variance in each of the two frames, the control condition, and control variables explained 22 percent of the variance in the average attitudes towards preventive policies (R2 = .22). The results indicate, however, that the difference between exposing participants to a fear frame b = .215, t = 1.17, p = .245, 95% CI [–
0.15, 0.58] compared to an empathy frame as reference category is not statistically significant.
Next, Model 4 tested the previous variables on support for preventive policies. This model was non-significant and the variables present in it did not explain any of the variance in participants’
support for preventive policies F(15, 143) = 1.17, p = .303. (See Model 4 in Table 2). Hence, it was dismissed from further analyses. All in all, the analyses demonstrate that news frames which stress the uncontrollability of the unsafe situation, and claim it is a social problem where
everybody’s a victim, are effective for influencing positive attitudes towards preventive policies.
Nevertheless, the actual behavior of supporting preventive policies obeys other factors that were not contemplated. In sum, we partially accepted H2. To understand whether personal experiences with unsafety played a moderating role on participants’ attitudes towards punitive and preventive policies, as well as their support for them, four models were employed. For H3, “The positive effect of a news frame about Colombia’s Citizens’ Safety Law stressing criminals’ responsibility (vs. non-responsibility) on citizens’ (a) attitudes and (b) support for punitive policies will be stronger for citizens who have had experiences with unsafety compared to citizens who have
Main Framing Effects on Attitudes and Support toward Punitive and Preventive Policies
Attitudes towards policies Support for policies
Model 1 Punitive
Model 3 Preventive
Punitive Model 4
Preventive b SE p b SE p b SE p b SE p Constant 2.789 .585 <.001*** 5.061 .377 <.001*** .805 .780 .304 4.487 .669 <.001***
Responsibility-Attribution -.056 .278 .840 .208 .179 .248 .566 .371 .129 .264 .318 .129 frame [0=Control]
Fear frame -.344 .283 .226 .468 .182 .011** -.078 .378 .836 .245 .324 .451 Empathy frame -.216 .289 .455 .418 .186 .026* -.223 .385 .564 .148 .330 .655 Female [0=Male] .112 .227 .623 -.383 .146 .010** -.386 .303 .204 -.376 .260 .150 Age -.007 .013 .588 .006 .008 .465 .036 .017 .035* .003 .014 .839 Socioeconomic status -.205 .103 .048* .149 .066 .026* -.320 .137 .021* .066 .117 .575 Political orientation .243 .057 <.001*** -.128 .036 <.001*** .404 .075 <.001*** .070 .065 .280 Sadness .014 .072 .848 .107 .046 .021* .081 .095 .399 .144 .082 .080 Anger .250 .074 .001** .021 .048 .657 .202 .099 .043* -.105 .085 .220 Anxiety -.052 .062 .406 -.023 .040 .572 .050 .083 .547 .087 .071 .222 Empathy .027 .059 .655 .026 .038 .493 .147 .079 .067 .039 .068 .565 Disgust .084 .060 .164 -.062 .038 .112 .053 .080 .506 -.015 .068 .825 Happiness .108 .141 .448 .099 .091 .278 .133 .188 .482 .147 .162 .365 Desire -.063 .110 .566 -.150 .071 .037* -.135 .147 .359 -.132 .126 .296 Relaxation .022 .137 .870 -.016 .088 .852 -.076 .182 .679 -.243 .156 .123
R2 = .328 R2 = .227 R2 = .340 R2 = .109 F(15, 143) = 4.66 F(15, 143) = 2.81 F(15, 143) = 4.90 F(15, 143) = 1.17
p < .001 p < .001 p < .001 p = .303
n = 159 n = 159 n = 159 n = 159
Note. b represents unstandardized coefficients, *p <.05, **p <.01, ***p <.001
not”; Model 5 included personal experience with unsafety and the interaction term Cond1*Per_exp for testing the moderation between the latter and the responsibility-attribution frame on attitudes toward punitive policies. The control condition represented the reference category. The model was statistically significant, F(17, 141) = 4.26, p = < .001. Accordingly, the model explained 34 percent of the variance in the average attitudes toward punitive policies (R2 = .34). In contrast to what H3 predicted, the results demonstrated that the interaction between being exposed to the responsibility-attribution frame and personal experiences with unsafety did not have a significant effect on attitudes toward punitive policies, b = –.857, t = –1.47, p = .143, 95% CI [–2.00, 0.29]. Furthermore, the main effect of personal experiences with unsafety was not significant, b = .269, t = –1.80, p = .074, 95% CI [–2.27, 0.11]. Model 6, on the other hand, tested the moderation effect on support for punitive policies as the dependent variable. The model was statistically significant, F(17, 141) = 4.52, p = < .001. Accordingly, Model 6 explained 35 percent of the variance in the average support for punitive policies4 (R2 = .35).
However, neither the main effect b = -.108, t = –0.31, p = .758, 95% CI [-0.80, 0.58] nor the interaction effect, b = –1.018, t = –1.31, p = .191, 95% CI [–2.55, 0.51] of personal experiences with unsafety were significant. (See Table 4 for Model 5 and 6). In summary, the results show that news frames that emphasize criminals’ responsibility for the unsafe situation do not exert any influence either on people’s attitudes or support for punitive policies. Consequently, H3 was rejected.
Likewise, to test H4 “The positive effect of a news frame about Colombia’s Citizens’
Safety Law stressing unsafety as an uncontrollable situation (vs. non-stressing it) on citizens’ (a) attitudes and (b) support for preventive policies will be stronger for citizens who have had
4 In spite of the significancy of the model, a scatterplot of the residuals shows a pattern of heteroscedasticity.
experiences with unsafety compared to citizens who have not”, Model 7 included personal experiences with unsafety and the interaction term Cond2*Per_exp for testing the moderation between the latter and the Fear frame on attitudes toward preventive policies. The control condition represented the reference category. The model proved to be statistically significant, F(17, 141) = 2.74, p = <.001. As a result, Model 7 explained 25 percent of the variance in the average attitudes toward preventive policies (R2 = .25). In spite of this, neither the main effect b
= .264, t = 1.59, p = .115, 95% CI [-0.07, 0.59] nor the interaction effect, b = .153, t = 0.37, p = .711, 95% CI [-0.66, 0.97] of personal experiences with unsafety were significant. In Model 8, the same variables were tested on support for preventive policies. Once again, it was non- significant F(17, 141) = 1.26, p = .227.(See Table 4 for Model 7 and Model 8). Given the non- significance of neither of the interaction terms or main effects, it can be interpreted that personal experiences with unsafety do not play any role in predicting attitudes and support for preventive policies when individuals are exposed to a fear frame. In turn, H4 was discarded.
Lastly, H5 “The positive effect of a news frame about Colombia’s Citizens’ Safety Law that stresses criminals as victims of social circumstances (vs. non-stressing it) on citizens’ (a) attitudes and (b) support for preventive policies will be stronger for citizens who have not had experiences with unsafety compared to citizens who have” was addressed using Model 9, which contemplated personal experiences with unsafety and the interaction term Cond3*Per_exp variables for testing the moderation with the empathy frame on attitudes toward preventive policies. The control condition represented the reference category. The model proved to be significant, F(17, 141) = 2.99, p = <.001. It explained 27 percent of the variance in the average attitudes toward preventive policies (R2 = .27). As hypothesized on H5, the interaction effect between the empathy frame and personal experiences with unsafety proved to be strong and
marginally significant b = –.739, t = –1.82, p = .071, 95% CI [–1.54, 0.65], which means that the positive effect of the empathy frame on attitudes toward preventive policies was less strong on participants that have had personal experiences with unsafety compared to those who had not.
Moreover, having experienced unsafety leads to 0.74 units less in attitudes toward preventive policies. Thus, in line with the assumptions made in H5, the positive attitudes toward preventive policies of participants in the empathy condition who had not had a personal experience with unsafety were stronger compared to those who had encountered criminality. In other words, participants who have been victims of unsafety have fewer positive attitudes toward preventive policies than those who have not when exposed to an empathy frame. Model 10 tested the same variables on support for preventive policies. The results proved the model to be non-significant F(17, 141) = 1.23, p = .249. (See Table 5 for Model 9 and Model 10). These findings indicate that the effects of news frames that highlight unsafety as a social problem where we are all victims, are different depending on whether people have had personal experiences with unsafety.
And, this is true for effects on attitudes towards preventive policies only. In other words, this means that in order to support preventive policies, participants are abided by other social factors.
All in all, H5 was partially accepted.
Differences between the Fear and Empathy Frame on Attitudes toward Preventive Policies
Note. b represents unstandardized coefficients, *p <.05, **p <.01, ***p <.001
Model 3a Preventive b SE p
Constant 5.315 .392 <.001***
Responsibility-attribution frame Fear frame [0=Empathy]
.184 .752 .245
Control condition -.306 .185 .100
Female [0=Male] -.251 .147 .090
Age .006 .008 .489
Socioeconomic status .145 .067 .031*
Political orientation -.127 .037 <.001***
Sadness .109 .046 .020*
Anger .015 .048 .758
Anxiety -.032 .040 .426
Empathy .025 .039 .518
Disgust -.060 .039 .123
Happiness .111 .091 .224
Desire -.145 .071 .044*
Relaxation -.025 .089 .778
R2 = .215 F(15, 143) = 2.61
p = .002 n = 159
Interaction Effects of the Personal Experiences with Unsafety on Attitudes and Support toward Punitive and Preventive Policies Attitudes towards policies Support for policies Model 5
Preventive Model 6
Punitive Model 8
b SE p b SE p b SE p b SE p
Constant 2.557 .618 <.001*** 4.866 .391 <.001*** .836 .823 .312 4.102 .669 <.001***
Responsibility-Att. frame [0=Control] .510 .497 .307 .116 .185 .533 1.381 .662 .039* .087 .329 .792 Fear frame -.434 .300 .150 .237 .361 .512 -.014 .400 .972 .429 .642 .505 Empathy frame -.294 .303 .333 .316 .194 .105 -.155 .403 .701 -.053 .344 .878
Personal experience with unsafety [0=No]
Resp.-Att. frame × Personal exp.
Fear frame × Personal exp.
Empathy frame × Personal exp.
.269 -.857 — —
.262 .582 — —
.307 .143 — —
.264 — .153 —
.166 — .411 —
.115 — .711 —
-.108 -1.020 — —
.349 .775 — —
.758 .191 — —
.566 — -.502 —
.295 — .730 —
.058 — .493 — Female [0=Male] . 037 .232 .874 -.392 .149 .010** -.444 .309 .153 -.452 .266 .091
Age -.005 .013 .670 .005 .008 .539 .039 .017 .022* .001 .014* .967
Socioeconomic status -.189 .103 .069 .164 .066 .014* -.322 .138 .021* .085 .117 .473 Political orientation .243 .058 <.001*** -.117 .038 .002* .385 .077 <.001*** .101 .067 .132
Sadness .022 .072 .759 .115 .046 .013* .081 .096 .400 .152 .082 .065
Anger .257 .075 <.001*** .020 .048 .677 .214 .099 .033* -.110 .085 .195
Anxiety -.056 .062 .365 -.023 .040 .570 .041 .083 .617 .097 .071 .174
Empathy .025 .059 .674 .027 .038 .485 .143 .079 .074 .045 .068 .507
Disgust .087 .060 .148 -.067 .038 .082 .066 .080 .407 -.027 .068 .693
Happiness .069 .143 .633 .094 .091 .299 .095 .191 .618 .132 .161 .412
Desire -.054 .110 .628 -.142 .071 .047* -.137 .147 .353 -.113 .126 .369
Relaxation .047 .138 .735 -.021 .088 .808 -.037 .183 .839 -.258 .156 .099
R2 =.339 R2 = .249 R2 = .352 R2 = .132 F(17, 141) = 4.26 F(17, 141) = 2.74 F(17, 141) = 4.51 F(17, 141) = 1.26
Interaction Effects of the Personal Experiences with Unsafety on Attitudes and Support toward Punitive and Preventive Policies
p < .001 p < .001 p < .001 p = .227 n = 159 n = 159 n = 159 n = 159 Note. b represents unstandardized coefficients, *p <.05, **p <.01, ***p <.001
Interaction Effects of Empathy and Personal Experiences with Unsafety on Attitudes and Support toward Preventive Policies Model 9
Model 10 Support
b SE p b SE p
Constant 4.841 .385 <.001*** 4.148 .693 <.001***
Responsibility-Att. Frame [0=Control]
.105 .108 .058
.745 .866 Empathy frame
Personal experience with unsafety [0=No]
Resp.-Att. frame × Personal exp.
Fear frame × Personal exp.
Empathy frame × Personal exp.
.862 .412 — — -.739
.359 .161 — — .407
— — .071
-.081 .464 — — .069
.646 .291 — — .732
.900 .113 — — .925
Female [0=Male] -.454 .147 .002* -.407 .264 .125
Age .005 .008 .528 .001 .014 .939
Socioeconomic status .162 .065 .192 .089 .118 .449
Political orientation -.115 .036 .002* .092 .065 .163
Sadness .114 .045 .013* .155 .082 .059
Anger .019 .047 .685 -.108 .085 .204
Anxiety -.020 .039 .612 .090 .071 .204
Interaction Effects of Empathy and Personal Experiences with Unsafety on Attitudes and Support toward Preventive Policies
Empathy .024 .038 .526
Disgust -.072 .038 .059 -.025 .068 .718
Happiness .125 .091 .173 .134 .164 .417
Desire -.145 .070 .040* -.117 .126 .354
Relaxation -.048 .088 .583 -.251 .158 .114
R2 = .265 F(17, 141) = 2.99
p <.001 n = 159
R2 = .129 F(17, 141) = 1.23
p = .249 n = 159 Note. b represents unstandardized coefficients, *p <.05, **p <.01, ***p <.001
In recent years, framing literature has increased its interest in studying how complex societal issues are framed and assimilated by audiences (Boukes, 2022; Lecheler et. al., 2015).
However, the scope of topics remains limited as most studies are based on western societies where large-scale issues like public safety are not as equally relevant as in non-western contexts.
For that reason, the present work strives for opening that scope by using Colombia as an example of how framing effects on safety affect political attitudes and behaviors about a real policy, specifically, the “Citizens’ Safety Law” or Ley de Seguridad Ciudadana. The findings firstly indicate that responsibility-attribution frames, where negative intentions and guilt of criminals are stressed, do not affect attitudes towards punitive policies. Contrary to what the significant anger produced by the social outburst and criminality in the country might suggest; people did not increase their desire for retributive measures as Kühne et. al., (2015) claims. The non- significance of this frame effect could also be explained by not signaling a specific criminal or criminal group in the stimuli as other studies have done, for example, with immigrants (Parrott et. al., 2020).
On another strand, it is striking that fear and empathy, in spite of being different valence frames, can build positive attitudes towards preventive policies. This confirms Roncallo Dow's (2007) claims about how fear frames foster empathetic reactions in the audience. Moreover, these findings demonstrate two things: First, both emotions can be equally mobilizers of positive attitudes toward a remedial approach instead of a punitive one, given that there are no significant differences between one frame and the other. Secondly, a negative frame such as fear is not necessarily associated with lower attitudes toward the prevention of crimes. This goes in line with other studies that have illustrated how negative emotions could also call out for policies that
seek the common well-being (Lecheler et. al., 2013; Renström & Bäck, 2021). Moreover, the fact that sadness and desire were significantly experienced after exposing participants to the empathy frame, confirms that the pity and the desire to aid successfully predicted a preference for preventative policies (Gault & Sabini, 2000; Gross, 2008; Pagano & Huo, 2007).
After attitudes, this work aimed to determine whether positive or negative attitudes toward punitive or preventive policies would also be endorsed by participants if a presidential candidate were to propose them. The latter was contemplated as the study was carried out during the pre-election period in Colombia. The results evidence that none of the three frames had a significant effect neither for supporting punitive or preventive policies. Ultimately, this indicates that a political behavior such as voting for a candidate that seeks to implement one or another policy obeys an entirely different set of variables than the ones from attitudes. Besides, given the fact safety is a high-importance issue, further information processing is needed in order to support a policy like the Citizens’ Safety Law (Lecheler et. al., 2009). Considering this, the significance of political orientation, socioeconomic status, and age of participants in the models, seems an indication that individual differences’ are the most relevant factors in policies’
On a different strand, this paper contributes to examining the potential moderation effects of people’s personal experiences with unsafety. The results determined that personal experiences with unsafety do not interact with the responsibility-attribution and fear frames on attitudes toward punitive and preventive policies, respectively. In contrast, it was established a significant interaction effect between the empathy frame and personal experiences with unsafety on people’s attitudes toward preventive policies. To begin with, the non-significance of the effects of the first two frames could be an indication that for predicting attitudes toward policies, individual
differences variables are more relevant than prior beliefs or experiences with unsafety. Thus, it seems likely that individuals do not account for these traumatic life events to produce further judgments on this matter when a criminal’s responsibility is stressed or fear is evoked. To some extent, this also accounts for the normalization of the unsafety phenomena in the country, where an encounter with criminality is not that isolated from reality and, thus, does not seem to always affect an individual’s attitudes toward the issue itself. Nonetheless, these findings are not
absolute. The fact that the interaction between the empathy frame and personal experiences with unsafety is significant, implies that these negative life events do diminish the positive views on preventive policies of people who have been victims of criminality. Thus, privileging views on the Citizens’ Safety Law. The effect is so strong that even when the news presents unsafety as a social problem where we are all victims, people who have experienced it, turn their positive attitudes toward preventive policies into more negative. With respect to support for the policies, no interaction effects were found. However, the responsibility-attribution frame displayed a significant main effect on support for punitive policies. These findings imply that being exposed to this frame only has an effect when individuals’ personal experiences with unsafety are taken into account.
Considering the results, alternative explanations could be part of the limitations of this study. For instance, this work accounted for the effect of textual frames as the online press is the most extended way of using news among young adults in Colombia. However, the level of penetration of the press is only third after television and radio (Portafolio, 2018). Also, using self-reported measures for emotions and experiences with unsafety might result unreliable as participants might omit sensitive information related to a traumatic experience. Consequently, different or even more, significant effects could be found in the rest of the population. Thus,
future research could occupy on determining the effect of frames in TV or radio, also digging into what are the specific actors involved in unsafety news depictions, as well as, specific forms of criminality that affect citizens.
In spite of this, this paper offers insight into the possible implications of implementing policies of the Citizens’ Safety Law on the perceptions, attitudes, behaviors, and judgments in the public opinion. Moreover, the present work not only contributes to the research about
framing effects in Latin America by opening a window for subsequent quantitative studies in the field, but it also provides journalists with real accounts of which types of narrative enhance or diminish audiences’ receptiveness about certain societal issues.
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