“Innocent Victims” of AIDS: Identifying the Subtext1


  • 1

    This study was supported by grants from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the University of Windsor, and the Psychology Department at Cornell University. We thank Barry Adam, Charlene Senn, Sandra Trehub, and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on earlier versions of the manuscript, and Vivian Zayas and Renée Cormier for their assistance in data collection and analysis.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to E. Glenn Schellenberg, Department of Psychology, University of Windsor, Windsor, Ontario N9B 3P4, Canada, e-mail: schelle@uwindsor.ca.


References to “innocent victims” of AIDS in the media and public discourse imply that other people with AIDS or HIV are blameworthy. In the present study, college undergraduates read two newspaper articles about an “innocent victim” of AIDS, and were required to report what they understood to be the “victim's” message. Very few participants reported the subtext without prompting. When asked directly, however, most respondents (88%) agreed that the “victim” was making an implicit statement about other people with AIDS, and 70% of this subgroup correctly identified the subtext. Compared to other respondents, those who identified the subtext had more positive attitudes toward homosexuals.