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Curr HIV Res. 2015;13(5):399-407.

Gist Representations and Communication of Risks about HIV-AIDS: A Fuzzy-Trace Theory Approach.

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Departments of Human Development and Psychology, Center for Behavioral Economics and Decision Research, Cornell University, B44 Martha Van Rensselaer Hall, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA.


As predicted by fuzzy-trace theory, people with a range of training—from untrained adolescents to expert physicians—are susceptible to biases and errors in judgment and perception of HIV-AIDS risk. To explain why this occurs, we introduce fuzzy-trace theory as a theoretical perspective that describes these errors to be a function of knowledge deficits, gist-based representation of risk categories, retrieval failure for risk knowledge, and processing interference (e.g., base-rate neglect) in combining risk estimates. These principles explain how people perceive HIV-AIDS risk and why they take risks with potentially lethal outcomes, often despite rote (verbatim) knowledge.For example, people inappropriately generalize the wrong gist about condoms' effectiveness against fluid-borne disease to diseases that are transferred skin-to-skin, such as HPV. We also describe how variation in processing in adolescence (e.g., more verbatim processing compared to adults) can be a route to risk-taking that explains key aspects of why many people are infected with HIV in youth, as well as how interventions that emphasize bottom-line gists communicate risks effectively.

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