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Neutral HIV presentations more likely to be considered inviting, study finds

9/4/2008

Matthew Freeman, 217-333-5802
diya@illinois.edu

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — A recent study by University of Illinois professor of psychology Dolores Albarracín and her colleagues at the University of Florida and the Alachua County Health Department in Florida found a method to increase enrollment among high-risk individuals in HIV prevention programs.

The study, which appeared this month in the journal Health Psychology, found that by offering an experimental introduction to a counseling session, public health institutions could increase enrollment by a significant amount.

Previous research by Albarracín found that those most likely to engage in behavior that puts them at a high risk for HIV are also the least likely to enroll and stay in HIV intervention programs.

Therefore the researchers studied the effects of delivering different messages to participants screened for high-risk behavior as an invitation to a counseling program delivered at the Alachua County Health Department in Gainesville, Fla. They found one message that increased enrollment among participants.

All the messages informed participants who had signed up for a generic health study that they could speak to a HIV-prevention counselor. In the experimental condition, they were also told that the counseling session was not intended to change their behavior, only to provide them with the most current information. Compared with a message that indicated that the counseling increased condom use, recipients of the experimental message enrolled at a rate higher by 15 percent. This effect was particularly strong when participants had no intention of using condoms at the beginning of the study.

“This kind of research has tremendous public health implications,” Albarracín said.

“Public health experts around the world are regularly in search of the most effective methods for curbing preventable health problems,” she said. “HIV is a disease caused by a number of risky behaviors like unsafe sex and unsafe needle sharing, but health information is often disseminated without complete knowledge of how it will be received by audiences,” she said.

“The research indicates that people will be more receptive to information when they don't believe they are trying to be influenced,” Albarracín said. “This approach will be helpful in giving public health professionals effective ways to introduce the public to information without repulsing those they are trying to help most.”

Other researchers involved in the study were Marta R. Durantini, Allison Earl, and Josh Leeper, of the University of Florida, and Joann B. Gunnoe of the Alachua County Health Department.

Editor’s note: To reach Dolores Albarracin, call 217-244-7019; e-mail: dalbarra@illinois.edu.