Generational experiences of stigma in relation to PLWHA

Author: Rebecca Shannon
Major: Public Health Studies and Psychology
Approved: Fall 2020
Status: In progress

This project will assess the generational differences in the expression of stigma towards people living with HIV or AIDS (PLWHA). The early years of the AIDS epidemic was a time of great uncertainty and fear that led to a high level of stigma towards PLWHA. Since then progress has been made in the understanding and treatment of HIV, as well as in the acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community and those who suffer from drug addiction. 

Stigma refers to an attribute that is seen as undesirable and forms a relationship with a stereotype that causes the stigmatized to be seen as less than.¹ Those interacting with the stigmatized construct a stigma-theory that explains the differences of the stigmatized from normal society.¹ This is done by placing them within a stereotype that explains the undesirable attribute and adding characteristics to create a virtual social identity, a false identity created by assumptions and stigma that differs from their actual social identity.¹ 

I aim to investigate whether there has been a change in the amount or type of stigma expressed and experienced by young adults compared to those who were young adults at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. To do so I will study both PLWHA and those who are not in both age groups. Participants will complete a shortened version of the HIV stigma scale developed by Berger et al² to measure the stigma against PLWHA, with it reversed engineered for participants who are not PLWHA. Then participants will read four vignettes about situations that they could experience and answer questions about how they would react. I expect for there to be a lower level of stigma expressed by young adults than the older generation, but that PLWHA, despite age, will still experience the same amount of stigma.