During my senior year of college I had the opportunity to take one of the best classes my school had to offer; Health Psychology. In this class we talked about the psychology of public health and different models that could be used to alter people’s attitudes toward their own wellbeing. In one assignment we were asked to create a Public Service Announcement focusing on one problem with the aim of changing a behavior. What follows is my PSA and the accompanying explanation/rationale.
In a 2006 study the United States’ Centers for Disease Control estimates that approximately 1.1 million Americans are infected with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and of those infected, roughly 20,000 people are unaware of their status. HIV primarily attacks a person’s T cells, which are responsible for the strength of the immune system. The virus can only be transmitted via very specific methods; unprotected sexual contact with an HIV+ individual, sharing intravenous drug equipment, pregnancy, childbirth, and/or breastfeeding. Efforts to curb the spread of HIV began in the late 1980s but infections continued to increase. Although the rate of new infections has hit a plateau, very-risky sexual behavior (i.e. unprotected sex) accounts for 83% of these recent infections.
My Public Service Announcement focuses on the percentage of people in America who are unaware of their HIV-positive status. I have conducted numerous focus groups with sexually active women many of whom have not been tested for HIV. The reasons given for this occurrence range from fear of infection, perception of helplessness, and trust in their partner’s disclosure of status. These reasons, while legitimate, complicate the ways Public Health workers can effectively advertise to various communities. My PSA also makes an attempt to reach out to men who have not been tested for many of the same reasons previously mentioned in this paper.
The psychology behind the creation of a PSA is crucial to its effectiveness. I elected to use the Health Belief Model because it considers two important factors that contribute to a person’s choice to change their health behavior. Firstly, the person must think about the represented behavior and whether they may have the associated health risk. Secondly, the target must believe in the positive effects of changing one’s negative health behaviors (Taylor, 2009). The fear appeal in this advertisement is necessarily low for this advertisement. I chose an image that it relatively representative of behavior that does not specifically illustrate an unhealthy behavior but her words “He’d tell me if he was positive” intends on highlighting the specific behavior that may negatively affect a woman’s health. For the purposes of my PSA I chose not to include a ‘scarier’ image of HIV/AIDS because I could not conceptually come up with a balanced message that would provide enough information to make the fear component work. Incidentally, this same quote intends to highlight this thought to men who have a responsibility to their partner to know and disclose their status in an effort to preserve their health and stop the spread of HIV. Increasing self-efficacy (i.e. your health is in your hands) through an advertisement for healthy behaviors is essential for the target audience.
There are some limitations in this PSA that may complicate its universal effectiveness. The people depicted in the advertisement are Caucasian and do not represent members within Communities of Color. This allows for individuals with these types of behavior to separate their negative health habit from themselves and thereby not change their behavior (Taylor, 2009). This non-universal representation also does not take into account any of the co-occurring risk factors happening within Communities of Color, most recently African-American men in the closet. This phenomenon is problematic but highly complicates the message that women should get tested for HIV.
The second imperfect component of my PSA is the depiction of an intimate act. Graphic images such as these may be offensive to some people who prefer not to view material of this nature. Potentially, this alienation could inhibit the probability of someone changing his or her health behavior. I believe th
at this kind of illustration is important because it catches the attention of people who might otherwise ignore it. Thirdly, the text suggests highlighting the problems of not adopting the behavior but I believe that having HIV (regardless of education and/or understanding) is perceived as a health risk.
Although this PSA has many limitations I believe in its effectiveness within specific communities. In following the Health Belief Model, it sends a clear message about a negative health behavior and provides information countering this behavior as well as information about how to change the behavior. However as Public Health workers have long realized, the proliferation of information is only the first step. The steps that follow depend on target audiences realizing the health threats associated with their behaviors and making an attempt to change them.
 http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5739a2.htm Accessed February 28, 2009
 http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/resources/factsheets/us.htm Accessed February 28, 2009
- Notorious HIV: The Criminal Prosecution of a Virus (narmer.wordpress.com)
- Notorious HIV: The Criminal Prosecution of a Virus (theroot.com)
- AEGiS-WashBlade: Linking HIV and the ‘DL’: Critics say media portrayals not backed by scientific facts (oftinspired.com)