Doubting the experts: AIDS misconceptions among runaway adolescents

Elisa J. Sobo, Gregory D. Zimet, Teena Zimmerman, Heather Cecil

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

14 Scopus citations


Many homeless and runaway adolescents may be at a high risk for HIV infection. Ideas about the severity of AIDS, possible modes of transmission, and the integrity of those who provide information about HIV/AIDS come into play as youths make safer sex decisions. Information on youths' ideas about these issues can be used to improve the effectiveness of HIV/AIDS education programs that target them. We interviewed 98 adolescents at two youth shelters in Cleveland, Ohio over a one-year span in 1992-93. When asked directly, two-fifths of the youths said that HIV/AIDS information is being held back from us; one-fifth reported that their beliefs differed from those of the experts. However, analysis of interview discourse suggested that the number of doubters actually may be much greater, and that doubting the experts may be a logical reaction to discrepancies in the HIV/AIDS information received as well as to historical and contemporary social and political factors. Interview responses also suggested that youths' generally high HIV/AIDS knowledge scores may reflect rote memorization rather than comprehension; the new information may be internalized in ways that fit with preexisting AIDS understandings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)311-320
Number of pages10
JournalHuman Organization
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jan 1 1997


  • Adolescents
  • Cleveland
  • Conspiracy
  • Ohio
  • Runaways; US
  • Sex behavior

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Social Sciences(all)

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