HIV Onset Controllability and Outcome Valence of Living with HIV: Determining the Role of Message Framing in Decreasing Stigma Associated with HIV/AIDS
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HIV/AIDS has been regarded as one of the most stigmatized diseases in the world. People living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) are routinely perceived as responsible for contracting their illness thus they should be blamed for the negative consequences associated with the disease. Literature has documented that perceived HIV onset controllability could affect emotions (anger and sympathy), which in turn influence behavioral intentions toward PLWHA. In addition to stigmatization at an individual level, HIV/AIDS stigmatization is also manifested at societal levels such as media discourse. HIV/AIDS has been historically portrayed as a deviant and abnormal disease in mainstream American media. Interviews with individuals living with HIV/AIDS showed that the HIV community preferred framing PLWHA in a desirable state rather than a negative image in news stories. Given that media symbolically stigmatizes HIV/AIDS and implicitly frames PLWHA in an immoral and loss state, a better understanding of message framing is needed to explore strategies to reduce HIV/AIDS stigma in media discourse. Guided by Weiner's attribution model and gain/loss framing theory, the current study systematically manipulated HIV onset controllability and outcome valence of living with HIV in an anti-stigma message design. It explored framing effects of HIV onset controllability (high controllability and low controllability) and outcome valence of living with HIV (gain frame and loss frame) on perceivers' attribution judgment, emotional reactions, and behavioral intentions toward specific individuals living with HIV and PLWHA in general. To achieve these goals, a two (assessment: pretest, posttest) by two (HIV onset controllability: high control, low control) by two (outcome valence: gain, loss) mixed model experiment was conducted. MANCOVA was applied to test the hypotheses and research questions. The results indicated that HIV onset controllability could be a major factor in explaining perceivers' attributions, emotions and behavioral intentions toward specific individuals and PLWHA in general. In most situations, outcome valence was not a significant predictor. However, outcome valence could interact with HIV controllability to elicit anger and influence people's intentions to interact with PLWHA. Positively framing PLWHA may even backfire and result in some negative emotional reactions and behavioral intentions toward PLWHA.