UNIQUENESS AND CONDOM USE ATTITUDES: A STUDY EVALUATION THE EFFECTIVENESS OF TAILORED VS. NON-TAILORED SAFE SEX MESSAGEs
 
Student researcher

Akshaya Sreenivasan (Ph.D. Candidate, College of Communications)
Amber Worthington (M.A. Candidate, Department of Communication Arts and Sciences)

This paper was based on a project as part of the Comm 506 course

Faculty Supervisor

Dr. S. Shyam Sundar

Introduction

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are a large concern for all sexually active individuals.  While condom use is an effective means to reduce transmission and infection of STIs, condom use declines sharply from high-school aged individuals to college-aged individuals.  Universities have therefore implemented safe sex health campaigns to promote condom use; however, the relationship between safe sex messages and effectiveness still needs to be better understood.  This study examined whether need for uniqueness moderated the relationship between tailored vs. non-tailored safe sex articles and condom use attitudes and behavioral intentions in university-aged students.  We also examined whether or not this relationship differed between male and female students.

RESEARCH QUESTION(S) AND HYPOTHESES:

Our research question was “For undergraduate students, controlling for age, gender, and annual income of the family, what is the relationship between tailoring of a safe sex health message and attitudes and behavioral intentions towards using a condom?”  Uniqueness was treated as a second independent variable in the analysis to observe its moderating effects.

Our hypotheses were as follows:

H1a: Tailored messages presented via a print format will have greater impact on male overall attitude towards condom use than non-tailored messages.

H1b: Tailored messages presented via a print format will have greater impact on female overall attitude towards condom use than non-tailored messages.

H2a: A higher composite need for uniqueness will result in a stronger, positive relationship between tailored messages and the male overall attitudes towards condoms.

H2b: A higher composite need for uniqueness will result in a stronger, positive relationship between tailored messages and the female overall attitudes towards condoms.

Additionally, we predicted that each individual dimension of uniqueness (creative choice, unpopular choice, avoidance of similarity, unique consumption behavior) would have an effect on each dimension of condom use attitudes (reliability and effectiveness, embarrassment about negotiation and use, embarrassment about purchase, behavioral intentions).  Thus we predicted a battery of sixteen hypotheses comparing each of these dimensions as related to the tailored vs. non-tailored safe sex message.

Method

An electronic, between subjects experimental method using an online questionnaire was administered to collect data for the study.  After providing informed consent in accordance with the Institutional Review Board participants were allowed to take part in the study.  The procedure consisted of three sections.  The first section comprised a battery of 19 questions pertaining to their individual need for uniqueness (a continuous variable measured using the short form CNFU-S), followed by pertinent demographic information.  After selecting their gender (male/female), participants were randomized to receive either a generic, non-gendered article, or an article tailored to their gender and self-identity as a university student.  After reading the article, respondents were given section 3 where they completed a battery of 18 questions pertaining to their condom-use attitudes and behavioral intentions (a continuous variable measured using the UCLA Multidimensional Condom Attitudes Scale).  Participants were then debriefed and released from the online experiment.  We ran a GLM on the JMP data analysis software to analyze our data.

Results

H1a, which stated that tailored messages presented via a print format will have greater impact on male attitude towards condom use than non-tailored messages was not supported (p = 0.83), whereas H1b, which stated that tailored messages presented via a print format will have greater impact on female attitude towards condom use than non-tailored messages was supported (p = 0.05).  There was no significant effect of the moderation of uniqueness on the relationship between the IV and the DV. In other words, uniqueness did not affect the relationship between tailored vs. non-tailored messages on the composite measure of condom attitudes.  No difference existed across gender either.  Hence both H2a (p=0.93) and H2b (p=0.52) were not supported. Table 1 shows the parameter estimates of the H1a, H1b, H2a and H2b. 

Table 1: Parameter estimates of total uniqueness, tailored vs. non-tailored message, and gender effects on the composite condom attitudes scale.

The 16 hypotheses examining each dimension of uniqueness on each dimension of condom use attitudes yielded no statistically significant results; however, The interaction between creative choice (uniqueness dimension) and reliability and effectiveness of condoms (DV dimension 1) for females and unique consumption behavior for males across the embarrassment of purchase (DV dimension 3) are approaching statistical significance (p=0.10 and p=0.07, respectively).  These results are shown in Table 2.

Table 2:  The four dimensions of uniqueness on the four dimensions of condom attitudes when controlling for gender.

Conclusions

While we expected that the uniqueness of the individual will positively moderate the relationship between tailored messages and condom use attitudes, we recorded no such effects. This contradicts the existing stream of research work that would lead one to predict that people who are high on uniqueness will prefer messages tailored to them than their non-tailored counterparts.

The first significant effect we found; tailored messages presented via a print format had greater impact on female attitudes towards condom use than non-tailored messages could potentially be due to female involvement in STI awareness and involvement.  We speculate that overall, women are more involved in issues relating to STI’s.  In accordance with the ELM, this would suggest that females are all centrally processing the information and all highly involved. 

The first result seen for creative choice predicting attitudes towards reliability and effectiveness coincides with the exploratory analysis that found total uniqueness also positively predicts this condom use attitudes dimension.   It is difficult to speculate why these results occurred; however, it is possible that uniqueness of an individual, particularly creative choice, drives an individual to pursue knowledge in all aspects of life, including health, again referring back to high processing of information in accordance with the ELM.  With that being said, this particular type of individual could potentially be more likely to be familiar with the knowledge that condoms are generally a reliable and effective means to prevent the spread of STIs.  The fact that the relationship between unique consumption behavior is approaching significance to positively predict increasing embarrassment about purchasing condoms in males is interesting.  Initially it would be expected that unique consumption behavior might decrease embarrassment about purchasing condoms; however, if it is considered to be a social norm for males to buy and possess condoms, this act of purchasing a condom may no longer be desirable to someone who seeks to purchase abnormal products, or deviate from the norm.

A few limitations exist in the study.  One relates back to the fact that during time the questionnaire was administered the university was experiencing a large, nationwide sexual abuse scandal, which could have impacted results relating to attitudes towards a safe sex article.  Additionally, the tailoring of the articles may have been too subtle to produce significant results.  In the future, this sort of study should be conducted across different universities during a different time period, as well as include higher tailoring of the message.

For more details regarding the study contact

Dr. S. Shyam Sundar by e-mail at sss12@psu.edu or by telephone at (814) 865-2173

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Media Effects Research Lab at College of Communications, Penn State University