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Tailoring safer sex messages to lower-educated young gay men: the impact on cognitions and intention

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In order to test whether simplifying information about HIV risk or tailoring arguments that are meant to promote the use of condoms would enhance the effects of safer sex messages on men of lower education, we conducted an experimental study. We recruited 51 lower-educated young Dutch gay men (i.e., men who stopped their training after they had completed general education or lower vocational training). We randomly assigned these men to read a safer sex brochure that is widely distributed among gay men in The Netherlands (the 'standard message') or one of three alternative versions. In the alternative messages we (1) reduced the complexity of the information about HIV risk, (2) obtained a closer match between the arguments that are meant to promote the use of condoms and the salient beliefs about safer sex in men of lower SES (among others we gave information about how to cope with situations that these men find difficult to handle), or (3) manipulated both aspects of message content. After exposure to one of the messages, participants completed a self-administered questionnaire that tapped social cognitions about safer sex. We also included 106 higher-educated men in our experiment (i.e., men who had completed high school, college, applied arts and sciences education, or academic and theoretical education). This allowed us to test whether tailoring messages to lower-educated men would have negative effects on higher-educated men. The results showed that simplifying information about HIV risk did not affect knowledge levels. Exposing lower-educated participants to the tailored arguments promoting the use of condoms, however, enhanced these men's intention to engage in protected anal sex. This effect was associated with an increase in men's perception of behavioural control. No negative effects of the manipulations of messages were found in higher-educated participants.This study emphasizes the importance of addressing control issues that are relevant to men of lower SES in order to increase the effectiveness of messages in encouraging preventive action.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Sellvation marketing BV Utrecht The Netherlands 2: Division of Public Health Amsterdam Municipal Health Service Amsterdam The Netherlands 3: Department of Experimental Psychology Maastricht University Maastricht The Netherlands 4: Department of Social and Organizational Psychology Utrecht University Utrecht The Netherlands

Publication date: February 1, 2004

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