November 30, 2001
Participants were students enrolled in Introductory Psychology at a mid-sized southeastern university over a 14-year period between 1986 and 2000.
Participants anonymously completed an AIDS Attitude Scale (AAS) consisting of "tolerant" and "intolerant" items such as: "I would like to feel at ease around people with AIDS" or "I would not allow my children to play with the children of people with AIDS." Students were asked to rate their degree of agreement from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree).
Additional questions were used to rate the participants knowledge about HIV, perceived susceptibility to HIV, concerns about infection through casual contact, and opinions about the effectiveness of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV. Researchers chose these variables because they reflect components of decision-making models used to conceptualize HIV-prevention efforts.
The data suggest that as AIDS has become more prevalent in the United States, perceived knowledge about it has increased and college students attitudes about it and people with HIV/AIDS have become more tolerant.
The authors state that one explanation for this finding is that when individuals feel more confident about their HIV knowledge they are less likely to fear infection through casual contact and are more tolerant of people with HIV/AIDS.
The authors suggest that the decreasing concerns of HIV infection from casual contact may relate to increases in personal contact with an HIV-positive individual and societal events such as Magic Johnsons announcement that he was HIV-positive.
Interestingly, the data suggest little relation between students perceived susceptibility to HIV/AIDS and attitudes about people with AIDS. The authors suggest that while this might seem disheartening to prevention efforts, a correlation between high tolerance toward people with AIDS and perceived invulnerability would imply that students empathize with people with AIDS only if they feel that HIV/AIDS is something that cannot happen to them. The lack of a correlation, therefore, may actually indicate that students are empathetic toward people with AIDS regardless of their own perceived susceptibility to the disease.
The authors go on to note that while students in general are expressing more tolerant attitudes toward AIDS and people with AIDS today compared with students a decade ago, there is still a large difference in the perception of males and females. This indicates that HIV-prevention and intervention programs must focus on the particular concerns of males and females.
The authors conclude by saying that analyzing changes in attitudes over time is a useful approach that has practical applications. Such comparisons can both describe trends and evaluate the effectiveness of education programs. By focusing on both the similarities and differences in attitudes over time, health professionals will be able to adapt programs to students current needs and concerns.
For more information: K. E. Bruce and L. J. Walker, "College Students Attitudes About AIDS: 1986 to 2000," AIDS Education and Prevention, vol. 13, no. 5, pp. 428-37.