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Journal of Interpersonal Violence


Objective: There are many methodological issues in studying sexual violence, including potential framing effects. Framing effects refer to how researchers communicate the purpose of a study to participants, such as, how the study is advertised or explained. The aim of the current study was to investigate if framing effects were associated with differences in participants’ self-reported experiences of sexual violence and related correlates.

Methods: College students (N = 782) were recruited to participate in one of four identical studies that differed in the title: “Questionnaires about Alcohol,” “Questionnaires about Crime,” “Questionnaires about Health,” or “Questionnaires about Sexual Assault.” Participants chose one of the four studies and completed measures of sexual violence as well as attitudinal and behavioral measures in randomized order.

Results: We found significantly more reports of childhood sexual abuse (33.6% vs. 18.5%), rape (33.9% vs. 21.1%), higher frequency of victimization (M = 11.35 vs. 5.44), and greater acknowledged rape for bisexual people (46.2% vs. 0.0%) in the Sexual Assault condition compared to other conditions. There were no differences in sexual violence perpetration or attitudinal or behavioral measures.

Conclusion: These results revealed that framing effects, based on the study title, affect outcomes in sexual victimization research. Rape was reported 1.6x more in the “Sexual Assault” condition than in the “Health” condition. It is unclear whether these framing effects reflect self-selection bias or framing related increased reports in the Sexual Assault condition, suppression of reports in other conditions, or a combination thereof.






The publisher's version of this article is available at:

Anderson RE, Namie EMC, Michel PK, Delahanty DL. Study Title-Based Framing Effects on Reports of Sexual Violence and Associated Risk Factors in College Students. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. May 2021. Copyright © 2021 Taylor and Francis. DOI:10.1177/08862605211016349

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