Stigma as a Social Barrier to the Understanding of HIV




Watson, Victoria J.

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The HIV/AIDS epidemic is well into its third decade. Each year since 2002, 50% of all new HIV infections in the United States have been among young adults (Stine 2008). This study aimed to both build off previous research, while at the same time employing new techniques and rationale, such as vignettes and the social contextual construction of stigma, for explaining HIV stigma. This research entailed examining the differences in levels of HIV stigma based on the manipulated characteristics (sexual orientation, occupation as a proxy for class, and mode of contraction) of Jonathan Thompson, a fictional character, along with the degree of HIV knowledge participants possessed and personal identity characteristics (sex, religiosity, and age) of participants. Results indicated that mode of contraction was the only statistically significant independent variable in this sample. More specifically, participants were more likely to express judgment and blame as well as avoid intimate interaction with someone like Jonathan Thompson when that person contracted HIV through unprotected sex or intravenous drug use. Additionally, participants were more likely to avoid personal interaction with someone like Jonathan Thompson, when that person contracted HIV through intravenous drug use. Further, it was found women expressed less judgment and blame, and were less likely to avoid personal interaction with an HIV positive person. Additionally, older participants had lower levels of the judgment and blame component of HIV stigma than younger participants. Finally, the greater the participant’s religiosity the more likely they were to harshly judge and blame, as well as avoid personal interaction with someone who was HIV positive. Since this research focused on discovering both individual and relational mechanisms at work in HIV stigma, the outcomes provide new insight for educators and health programs to utilize in providing resources and discourse that are better suited to reduce stigmatization of the illness amongst college students.



HIV, Stigma, Vignettes, Survey research, Health