The AIDS virus is transmitted from one person to another in infected blood, semen, and vaginal secretions. People who are HIV-positive may have no symp- toms for several years and may not even realize they are infected. Eventually, however, the virus will ravage the immune system by destroying lymphocytes that help ward off disease. What’s frightening about AIDS is that it can be fatal. Although antiretroviral drugs can be used to control the virus, despite many years of testing there is no still vaccine that can prevent its occurrence.
The most effective way to slow the spread of AIDS is to alter people’s beliefs, motivations, and risk-taking behaviors— and that’s where social psychology comes in. Across a range of perspectives, several basic steps emerge. For social psychologists, the challenge in addressing the HIV crisis is to convert the science into a practice that works. In an excellent illustration, Jeffrey Fisher and his colleagues (2002) theorized that HIV prevention in city schools, which is essential for controlling the number of newly infected teens, requires a three-pronged attack. In their model, students must be provided with accurate information about HIV transmission and how to prevent it, with a personal and social motivation to engage in HIV-preventive behaviors and with the behavioral skills necessary to follow through—notably, by using condoms.