Master's Theses



Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


The purpose of this study was to examine the effects of physical attractiveness and HIV diagnosis on the attribution of personal characteristics to individuals. More specifically, with the increasing prevalence of HIV diagnoses, the present and future sexual practices of target individuals is critical to understanding the impact of AIDS in contemporary society. Negative attributes are often associated with HIV and AIDS diagnoses, while positive attitudes are similarly associated with physical attractiveness. The present study was designed to investigate attributions specific to individuals with a designated level of attractiveness and HIV status. Data was collected from both male and female university undergraduate students (n=99) who responded to scenario-based questionnaires involving a hypothetical target individual. The scenarios were developed and first used by Agnew and Thompson (1994). Results indicated that the gender of the target individual was a significant factor in their perceived acquisition of AIDS. In general, male targets were seen as contracting AIDS by shared needle drug use more than female targets. Attractive male targets were also perceived as being more responsible for their acquisition of AIDS than their unattractive male counterparts. Both men and women were seen as equally prone to acquiring AIDS. Also, the gender of the participant significantly affected perceptions of individuals contracting the disease through a single homosexual relationship. Male participants, when compared to female participants, perceived that HIV-positive individuals were the most likely to acquire AIDS through homosexual means. In particular, males attributed an HIV diagnosis through single homosexual relationships more to unattractive targets, while females attributed an HIV diagnosis through a single homosexual relationships more to attractive targets. The target’s level of attractiveness (very attractive/very unattractive) directly influenced how a target was characterized. Overall, the more attractive a target individual was, the more likely that person was perceived as popular, tall, clean cut, warm, and pleasant. Attractive targets were attributed more responsibility for their acquisition of AIDS than those found unattractive. Attractive targets were also perceived as having more sexual partners in their lifetime and to be more apt to tell a significant other if they were HIV-positive than unattractive individuals. Furthermore, attractive target individuals were perceived as preferring condoms and/or monogamy for safe sexual practices, while abstinence and/or limited sexual contact were the preferred safe sexual practices of unattractive target individuals. In addition, the perceived intent for attractive individuals to engage in safe sexual practices did not differ significantly from that of unattractive individuals. The HIV status of the target individual was found to be a significant indicator of future sexual practices. HIV-positive target individuals were seen as more apt to engage in future safe sexual practices and were more willing to use these safe sexual practices for every future sexual encounter. Female targets who were HIV-negative were perceived to practice safe sex more than HIV-negative males. The relationship between physical attractiveness and HIV diagnosis is apparent. These results support the past research demonstrating an overall positive perception of attractive individuals and negative perceptions attributed to those diagnosed with AIDS.


Thomas T. Jackson

Date of Award

Fall 1998

Document Type

Thesis - campus only access


© 1998 Kathryn J. Blume


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