Doctoral student Martina Thomas, supervised by Dr. Jason A. DeCaro, will use cultural consensus, consonance, and ecocultural theories to investigate the social ecology of HIV risk knowledge and behavior. Using mixed qualitative and quantitative ethnographic methods, this project investigates how adolescents' "multiple worlds," modeled through ecocultural theory, contribute to variation in HIV risk knowledge and behavior, and what features of these multiple worlds contribute to poor health outcomes or to greater resiliency. Multiple worlds are bounded areas, such as families, schools, or neighborhoods, where cultural meaning and behavior familiar to the insiders of each world can be identified. The researchers posit that variation in HIV risk knowledge and behavior will be associated with social integration, social support, HIV risk perception, and the goals, expectations, and values identified across the multiple worlds occupied by adolescents.
The project's sample draws from African American teens living in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, an ideal location for this study. Alabama has among the lowest rates of condom use among high school students. African Americans represented 26 percent of the state's population, but 64 percent of reported HIV infections in 2011. Risk is high among girls living under adverse economic conditions, due to lack of resources, gender inequality, partner concurrency, and inconsistent condom use. Female youth living in disadvantaged communities will be observed and interviewed for this project.
A major contribution of the project will be to describe how socio-cultural influences contribute to HIV risk knowledge and how knowledge is converted to practice in adolescence. This study will provide insights to modify HIV/AIDS interventions, by addressing gaps in knowledge of HIV risk and gaining access to potential cultural brokers that girls view as important sources of help in reaching their goals. In this way, the project will assist health and social science researchers in understanding how to reduce risk behaviors and decrease new HIV infections.