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Soc Sci Med. 1995 Aug;41(4):557-68.

Attitudes towards people with HIV: are they as stigmatizing as people with HIV perceive them to be?

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MRC Medical Sociology Unit, Glasgow, Scotland.


Stigma is a feature of HIV disease and many people who are HIV-positive report that their lives are affected by fear of discrimination (felt stigma). Although opinions do not necessarily predict behaviour, this article examines whether the public's avowed attitudes to people with HIV are as punitive and stigmatizing as those infected think they are, and the extent to which public attitudes may contribute to felt stigma. A street survey was conducted in Glasgow and Edinburgh, Scotland, asking a stratified quota sample of 300 men and women of all ages to complete a short questionnaire about their attitudes toward people with HIV. The same questionnaire was also completed by 42 men and women with HIV. One in five respondents in the street survey, and all of those with HIV, were also asked to complete the questionnaire imagining that they were a typical member of the public, to find out whether both groups attributed more hostile attitudes to generalized others than they themselves professed. Overall, the general public had relatively liberal views about people with HIV although a majority felt that some restrictions should be placed upon their freedom. Controlling for age, sex, socioeconomic status and city, people with HIV had more liberal attitudes than the general public, but perceived public attitudes to be far less liberal than were reported in the street survey. Respondents in the street survey also perceived generalized others to be less liberal than themselves. These results provide evidence of felt stigma among people with HIV and the policy implications are discussed. The findings are also set within a theoretical framework concerning the nature of attitudes, their relationship to behaviours, and the pervasiveness of negative images associated with AIDS.

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