We review the results of our research program investigating the effects of brief risk
awareness interventions for sexually active young adults⎯the age group most at-risk for sexually
transmitted infections (STIs). Our review examines the influence of framed messages, individual
differences, and visual aids on key attitudes, behavioral intentions, and health outcomes in three
extensive longitudinal studies. Our first study showed that health messages can promote self-reported
condom use (screening for STIs) when the messages were framed in positive (negative) terms. This study also showed
that adding visual aids to the positive and negative framed messages made them equally and highly effective for
promoting self-reported behavior. Visual aids increased self-reported behavior by eliminating the effect of framing on
attitudes and behavioral intentions, which in turn influenced self-reported behavior. Our second study showed that visual
aids were especially helpful for reducing the effect of message framing among young adults with low numeracy and high
graph literacy. Our third study showed that visual aids influenced key attitudes, behavioral intentions, and self-reported
behavior as much as a validated 8-hour educational program. Overall, our research suggests that well-constructed visual
aids provide simple, effective ways of communicating quantitative information about STIs to at-risk young adults.
Theoretical mechanisms, public policy implications, and open questions are discussed.
Keywords: Condom use, individual differences, message frame, numeracy, risk literacy, screening, sexually transmitted
infections, visual aids, young adults.
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