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Ph.D Projects

Introduction
Pivotal aspects
Methodologies
Projects


down Introduction

The subprojects of this research project aims to make a substantial contribution to improving a health issue (HIV/AIDS) that has severely and negatively effected the South African society at all levels, including its sustainable development.

The research will make a major contribution to the efforts of government and NGO’s in the fight against the pandemic. Clearly the severity of the AIDS problem in South Africa and the fact that current efforts have not succeeded in effectively curbing the spread of the disease underscore the need for research projects as these that can make a significant contribution to developing effective prevention strategies and programmes in South Africa.

Given the overall aim of the project to improve the effectiveness of HIV/AIDS prevention messages, it is necessary to generate knowledge about:
  • the effects of fundamental design decisions

  • the way in which concept messages can be tailored to the needs and preferences of the various target groups

Pivotal aspects
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With respect to knowledge about fundamental design decisions, the Ph.D projects will focus on four pivotal aspects in the design of prevention messages in the South African context:
  1. Persuading people to have safer sex: the design of effective fear appeals

  2. Persuading people to voluntarily report for HIV/AIDS Counselling, Testing and Referral

  3. Persuading people to have safer sex: the role of peers and personas

  4. Using verbal and visual presentation formats in HIV/AIDS instructional documents

  5. Designing and testing public information documents on HIV/AIDS in South Africa

Methodologies
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Each project is supervised by a South African and a Dutch senior researcher. Furthermore, for each of the different research methods (survey, corpus analysis, experiment, pretesting), a South African and a Dutch senior researcher take responsibility. In the different subprojects, several research methods will be employed.

The survey part, which plays an important role especially in subprojects 1, 2 and 3, will be supervised by Prof Dr A Carstens and Dr H Boer, the corpus analysis by Prof Dr P H Swanepoel and Prof Dr A Maes, experiments by Prof Dr P H Swanepoel and Dr H Hoeken, and the pretesting by Prof Dr L G de Stadler and Prof Dr C J M Jansen.



Projects

(1) Persuading people to have safer sex: the design of effective fear appeals
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In health communication fear appeals try to convince an audience by presenting the negative consequences of not adopting a propagated behaviour. Although controversial in the South African context, research has shown that fear appeals are powerful instruments in health communication to change the target audience's behaviour in the intended direction.
However, fear appeals only succeed if the audience is convinced of the efficacy of the propagated behaviour to avert the threat and of their efficacy in performing the propagated behaviour. In a culturally diverse society such as South Africa, the question remains whether fear appeals have the same effect on the different target groups. The main objective of this research project is to determine how cultural and other relevant variables determine perceptions of threat (severity and susceptibility) and efficacy (response and self-efficacy) in persuading specific target groups to adopt safer sex behaviours.

More specific research details


(2) Persuading people to voluntarily report for HIV/AIDS Counselling, Testing and Referral
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Knowing whether one has already been infected with HIV is important to take the necessary precautions to stop the spread of the disease. To that end, it is necessary for people to have themselves tested for HIV/AIDS. However, given that there is no universal access to antiretroviral therapy in South Africa, knowing that one is infected more than often equates to knowing that one will die. For most individuals there is therefore no personal gain in performing the propagated behaviour, nor a personal loss in not performing the behaviour. In these circumstances, fear appeals will not be very effective in persuading people to have themselves tested. Appealing to social or moral values may in fact be more effective. Again, the various target groups may differ with respect to which social and moral values they consider most important. The second research objective is therefore to assess whether the various target groups differ with respect to salient moral and social values and how these values can be used to persuade people to have themselves tested.

More specific research details


(3) Persuading people to have safer sex: the role of peers and personas
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HIV/AIDS messages are often aimed at young, sexually active people. For the kind of behaviour the documents are aimed to modify (e.g., having safe sex), peer group pressure plays an important role. The effectiveness of these messages may improve if the information and arguments are put forward by an (influential) peer or source. The third research objective is therefore to assess what kind of text-mediated sources the various target groups consider credible and influential and how these sources can be used to persuade people to have safe sex. A related line of research is the reader roles that are created for target audiences in text-mediated communication. These roles may also differ in their acceptability to culturally diverse target groups, and, consequently, in their ability to influence various target audiences in accepting propagated behavioural changes. A further goal of this subproject is therefore to assess what kind of reader roles the various target groups consider acceptable and how these roles can be used to persuade people to have safe sex.

More specific research details


(4) Using verbal and visual presentation formats in HIV/AIDS instructional documents
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Printed materials play an important role in HIV/AIDS support and care programmes They are generally used to advise HIV-positive people and their caregivers on such matters as healthy living, healthy eating habits, breast-feeding, treating opportunistic infections, etc. Two important problems associated with printed documents are the literacy (educational) level and the linguistic diversity of the South African population. The main purpose of the study is to investigate how the effectiveness of printed instructions for low-literate South Africans and their caregivers on aspects of coping with HIV/AIDS can be optimised through manipulation of visual and verbal presentation formats. The results will be used to develop theory-based and research-driven heuristics for using text and visuals in instructional health communication, focusing on both the cultural diversity of SA and the topical context of HIV/AIDS.

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(5) Designing and testing public information documents on HIV/AIDS in South Africa
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Due to the degree of unpredictability that is intrinsic to real-life communication situations, each HIV/AIDS public information document, however carefully it has been designed, has to be pretested and, if need be, revised to be optimally successful in achieving its communicative goals. The first aim of this project is, therefore, to develop a set of reader-, text- and expert-focused evaluation techniques and instruments to pretest HIV/AIDS public and information documents. The second aim of the project is to determine how cultural variables interact with the content, application, usability and validity of these evaluation techniques and instruments.

More specific research details