Re-appraising HIV testing: an exploration of the psychosocial costs and benefits associated with learning one's HIV status in a purposive sample of Scottish gay men

Br J Health Psychol. 2003 May;8(Pt 2):179-94. doi: 10.1348/135910703321649150.


Objective: This study explored contemporary understandings of the psychosocial costs and benefits associated with learning one's HIV status within a purposive sample of Scottish gay men. It seeks to provide insight into the psychosocial factors associated with decision-making processes relating to the HIV antibody test.

Method: Transcripts of one-to-one interviews (N = 19) and four focus groups (N = 18) were analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. Participants had varied HIV testing histories, and the sample included men who identified their HIV status as positive, men who identified it as negative, and men who did not know.

Results: The HIV test could resolve doubt and anxiety for some men, but only when 'not knowing' was experienced as less tolerable than an imagined positive result. Many participants were deterred from seeking an HIV test because of their fears of the implications of a positive result. The decision to take an HIV test could be understood as a choice between living with uncertainty and the perceived impact of ascertaining HIV status.

Conclusion: For the participants in this study, the decision to test or not involved many complex medical, psychological and social factors. It is argued that the development of HIV testing policy must start with a perspective grounded in an understanding and appreciation of these complexities.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antibodies, Viral / analysis
  • Decision Making*
  • Focus Groups
  • HIV Infections / diagnosis*
  • HIV Infections / psychology*
  • Health Policy
  • Homosexuality, Male / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mass Screening
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk Assessment
  • Scotland / ethnology
  • Social Conditions
  • Stress, Psychological*


  • Antibodies, Viral