Culturally Sensitive AIDS Educational Videos for African American Audiences
Effects of Source, Message, Receiver, and Content
  Herek, G.M., Gillis, J. R., Glunt, E. K., Lewis, J., Welton, D., & Capitanio, J. P. (1998). Culturally sensitive AIDS educational videos for African American audiences: Effects of source, message, receiver, and context. American Journal of Community Psychology, 26, 705-743.

The importance of using culturally sensitive educational materials in HIV-related interventions with racial and ethnic minority groups is widely acknowledged. However, little empirical research has been conducted to assess the relative effectiveness of different techniques for creating culturally sensitive AIDS educational videos.

Many currently available AIDS educational videos use a multicultural approach. Targeted at multiracial audiences, they feature communicators from various ethnic and cultural groups and discuss the problems posed by AIDS for different groups.

Other videos take a culturally-specific approach: Targeting a single ethnic or racial group, they feature communicators from that group and discuss AIDS specifically as it affects that community.

Both multicultural and culturally-specific AIDS videos generally respect the sensibilities of viewers in their target audience. However, whether they are differentially effective in reaching particular audiences is not clear. Because multicultural videos have a larger potential audience than culturally-specific videos (the former can be used with several ethnic and racial groups rather than only one), they may be more economical to produce. Any monetary savings might be offset, however, if they are significantly less effective in reaching their target audience.

The question of how to increase the cultural sensitivity of AIDS videos is part of a larger question: What makes any AIDS educational video effective for a particular audience? Although responses to AIDS education are affected by many factors, social psychological research on communication and persuasion offers a conceptual framework for analyzing persuasive communications in terms of a few major categories of variables. These include characteristics of the source, message, and audience.

Source. Communicators have consistently been found to be more influential to the extent that they are judged to be credible (i.e., perceived to be trustworthy and competent) and attractive (i.e., perceived as physically attractive, likable, and similar to the audience member).

Message. Perceptions of the communicator, in turn, can be influenced by message characteristics, both the content of the message and the way it is presented.

Audience. Perceptions of the communicator also can be influenced by audience members' characteristics such as their perceived similarity to the communicator.

This framework suggests that culturally sensitive AIDS interventions for African Americans should be based on the recognition that Blacks' judgments about the credibility and attractiveness of a source may be affected by the race of the communicator (a source characteristic), the extent to which the message is directly relevant to the cultural identity and community experiences of audience members (message characteristics), and the extent to which individual audience members are highly distrustful of Whites in general or AIDS information from White-identified sources in particular (receiver characteristics).

Using this framework, we conducted a series of field experiments to assess how various characteristics of an AIDS educational video influence its effectiveness among African American viewers.

For more details about the study, read the complete research report.

We created new AIDS educational videos in which we experimentally manipulated the following variables:

  • source characteristics: whether the information about AIDS was presented by a White or African American announcer
  • message characteristics: whether the information explained the impact of AIDS on Americans of all races and ethnicities (i.e., a multicultural message) or focused exclusively on African Americans (i.e., a culturally specific message)

In addition, we examined:

  • audience characteristics: audience members' pre-existing levels of distrust for Whites and their distrust of government and scientific information about AIDS and how HIV is transmitted.

We showed each video to different audiences of nearly 500 African American adults from different social and educational backgrounds. We measured their immediate reactions to the video on several different dimensions:

  • perceptions of the video's credibility
  • perceptions of the video's technical quality
  • perceptions of the video's overall appeal
  • perceptions of the announcer's credibility
  • perceptions of the announcer's attractiveness.

We expected to observe differences in African Americans' video ratings as a result of our experimental manipulations of source and message characteristics. Such differences might have an alternative explanation, however. They might result simply from unintended variations in production quality of the videos. Although we tried to minimize any extraneous differences among the videos, it was possible that we did not succeed in this effort.

As a methodological check, therefore, we also showed the videos to 120 non-Black college students, including Asian-Americans, non-Hispanic Whites, and Latinos. We reasoned that if Black and non-Black audiences both preferred one video it would indicate that the videos were not equivalent in quality. But if the non-Black audience showed no preference for one video over another, any differences in preferences among Black viewers could be attributed to the experimental variables.



View Graphic Presentation of Results


Our major findings can be summarized as follows:

  • The AIDS video was rated more favorably by Black audiences when it featured an African American announcer rather than a White announcer.
  • The video was rated more favorably when it delivered a culturally-specific message rather than a multicultural message.
  • The non-Black audience did not rate the videos differently, regardless of whether the announcer was Black or White or whether the message was multicultural or culturally specific.
  • African American viewers who tended to distrust Whites and who did not believe official information about AIDS tended to rate the multicultural videos less favorably than other viewers (regardless of whether the announcer was Black or White). However, they tended to rate the culturally specific video more favorably.

These findings suggest that culturally specific videos will be more effective tools for AIDS education among African American audiences than multicultural videos. Does this mean that multicultural videos won't work with African American audiences?

Follow-Up Videos  

To examine this question, we showed a second video to some of the African American audience members. To avoid confusion, we will refer to that second video as the follow-up video, and the first video as the priming video.

One follow-up video had a multicultural format and the other had a culturally specific format. We expected that African American viewers would prefer the culturally specific follow-up video. However, we hypothesized that the multicultural video would be regarded more favorably if it was preceded by a culturally specific priming video. We expected, in other words, that the first video would "prime" the audience members to respond to the follow-up video more favorably or less favorably.

As hypothesized, the culturally-specific follow-up video was rated consistently higher than the multicultural follow-up for credibility, technical quality, and overall appeal. However, watching the culturally-specific priming video increased the favorability ratings of the follow-up, even when it had a multicultural focus.

In summary, African American audiences preferred a culturally specific AIDS video. However, it appears that a multicultural video can be more effective for African American audiences if it is shown in a culturally-specific context (e.g., after audience members watch a culturally specific video).


The results have important implications for the design of AIDS educational videos and possibly for AIDS education in general. Many existing videos are produced for multiracial and multiethnic audiences and adopt a multicultural approach. The present study suggests that such videos may not be highly effective with African American audiences. The information that they provide is not likely to be perceived as credible by a significant number of Black viewers and, consequently, they may be relatively unsuccessful in imparting information about HIV. Black viewers' preexisting distrust concerning AIDS and toward Whites in general are likely to affect their perceptions of such videos.

In light of these findings, we tentatively encourage AIDS video producers – and the AIDS educators who use them – to utilize culturally specific messages when doing so is practical.

The findings also offer hope, however, for continuing to use existing multicultural videos and other materials. Such materials may be useful if they are presented within a culturally-specific context. Educators working with an African American audience, for example, could conduct their educational sessions in a Black-identified setting (e.g., a community center), ensure that all of the educators and staff are African American, and begin the sessions with presentations and discussions that focus specifically on the problem of AIDS in the African American community.

After establishing such a context, multicultural videos might be useful if they represent only a small portion of the materials used in the program. Similarly, multicultural AIDS educational messages on broadcast television may be more effective for African American audiences if they are embedded within programming blocks that specifically target Black audiences.

The present study should be understood as an investigation of only one small piece of an extremely complex set of issues that affect African Americans' responses to the HIV epidemic. The number of variables that could be assessed was necessarily limited. Many variables potentially relevant to AIDS education were necessarily left unexplored. In future research, valuable data could be obtained by using a design similar to that of the present study but manipulating other source variables (e.g., gender or age of the communicator) and message variables (e.g., presentation of information through musical or dramatic formats rather than didactic presentations). A variety of other audience characteristics could also be profitably examined. For videos targeting African Americans, for example, relevant receiver variables might include personal experience with the AIDS epidemic or with a PWA, heterosexuals' attitudes toward homosexuality, and attitudes and experiences concerning drug use.

As the AIDS epidemic expands and African Americans continue to be disproportionately affected by HIV, prevention efforts in the Black community are increasingly important. Videos represent only one component of ongoing, comprehensive AIDS education efforts that utilize a variety of methods for imparting information and promoting risk reduction. The findings reported here indicate that videos designed for such educational programs are more likely to be effective when they feature members of the community in front of the camera and deliver culturally-specific messages. More broadly, the present study suggests that AIDS interventions will have a better chance for success when they are delivered primarily or exclusively by members of the community, and are conducted in a context that supports cultural identity and community values.

For more details about the study, read the complete research report.
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