UI professor researches HIV-prevention counseling

By Andrew Maloney

The way HIV-prevention counseling is presented to potential clients is very important in determining who ultimately enrolls, according to a recent University study.

“Years of funding have gone into researching health issues like HIV,” said Dolores Albarracin, the study’s researcher and professor of social psychology. “When you just kind of throw it into the community though, people will not always accept it.”

This is especially true of those who are at the highest risk for participating in behavior that results in HIV infection.

In the study, completed at the Alachua County Health Department in Florida, participants were first screened for the frequency in which they used condoms during sexual activity. Those who described themselves as infrequent users and unlikely to use condoms in the future were randomly assigned to different conditions of the experiment.

In each case, the introduction to a voluntary HIV-intervention program was slightly altered. In some instances, the participants were told the program was “highly effective” at changing their behavior. In others, they were told the program would give them options but may not change their actions. The rest were either given information about the program or simply an invitation to join.

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The results showed participants were around 15 percent more likely to enroll if they did not feel their behavior was being threatened by the introduction. Albarracin said this conclusion may be best explained by the idea of defensive confidence, a person’s ability to defend his or her own attitudes and behaviors.

“People typically don’t want to do something when they’re forced, so if you really want people to change, you can’t impose it on them,” Albarracin said.

She also indicated that this research has broader implications, citing product advertisements as well as political elections.

“Data that’s been collected from election studies shows that folks who are high in defensive confidence are more likely to defect to another side politically,” Albarracin said.

Ali Earl, a graduate student who helped with the research, said if the study was copied at the University, an increase in the amount of those in an HIV-intervention programs would result.