Living with HIV/AIDS  

Psychological Risk Factors for HIV Infection

How people think and feel influences how they behave. Psychological factors like beliefs, attitudes, personality, coping styles, and other psychological characteristics influence whether people engage in high-risk behaviors.

Beliefs about AIDS
People who think AIDS is a relatively minor or remote problem are not likely to take steps to reduce their risks (1).

Risk Perception
People who think that they personally are not at risk for HIV infection (have a low perceived susceptibility to HIV infection) are more likely to engage in risky behaviors (1).

Personality Characteristics
Low self-esteem, neuroticism (preoccupation with the self), antisocial personality, impulsivity (the tendency to do things suddenly, without thinking about the consequences of the action), tendency to take risks, and tendency to seek out new sensations are related to sexual risk-taking behavior (1).

Coping Responses
To escape from stress, some people engage in high-risk sexual behaviors or use drugs and alcohol, just as others may smoke cigarettes or overeat to relieve stress (1,2).

Psychological Disorders
Psychological disorders such as personality disorders, self-destructive behaviors, hyper-sexuality, sexual obsession and compulsivity, depression, anxiety, and negative states of mind (e.g., anger, pessimism) are associated with high-risk sexual behaviors with multiple partners (1). They are also associated with another psychological risk factor for risky behavior: drug abuse and addiction.

1. Kalichman, S.C. Preventing AIDS. A Sourcebook for Behavioral Intervention. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1998.

2. Zierler, S. & Krieger, N. Social Inequality and HIV Infection in Women. In The Emergence of AIDS: The Impact on Immunology, Microbiology, and Public Health, K.H. Mayer & H.F. Pizer (eds.). Washington, DC: American Public Health Association, 2000.

© Sociometrics Corporation, 2004