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Carnegie Mellon interactive-video DVD helps teens avoid sexually transmitted diseases


Sexually active teenage girls who viewed an interactive sex education DVD created by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University were more likely to become abstinent than girls who did not see the DVD, according to a study of 300 adolescent girls in the Pittsburgh area. The study will be published this fall in the journal "Social Science and Medicine."

The DVD, "What Could You Do?" portrays teenage girls in situations that typically lead to sex and allows the viewer to choose what actions the girl takes. It shows the consequences of each of the girl’s decisions and offers alternatives. The DVD, which is specifically targeted at girls who are sexually active, is based on research into adolescent sexual decision-making by members of the Department of Social and Decision Sciences at Carnegie Mellon.

"For a lot of girls, the decision to have sex is not so much a choice that they make, but something that they perceive as happening to them. They’re driven by the situation," said Julie Downs, the lead researcher on the project. "What we want to offer them is a self-contained, research-based education on how to make better decisions for themselves."

The DVD includes information about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and the proper use of condoms. Downs’ research has revealed that that although adolescent girls know a lot about AIDS, they know very little about other STDs--such as genital herpes, chlamydia and gonorrhea--that they are far more likely to contract.

The study followed the girls for six months during which they either interacted with the DVD or read other educational materials, such as commercially available brochures, at up to four separate visits. Those assigned to view the DVD were more likely to become abstinent and, among those who continued to have sex, were less likely to have a condom fail from incorrect usage. Girls who watched the DVD were less likely to report having contracted an STD than girls who had not seen the DVD.

Downs said girls can watch the DVD while they are sitting in a doctor’s waiting room--on average, teenagers wait 40 minutes to receive medical care, she said.

"We now have this DVD that can be incorporated into clinical care very easily. This is a way of getting information to patients very cheaply," Downs said. Clips of the DVD can be viewed at

Down’s co-authors include Baruch Fischhoff, the Howard Heinz University Professor of Social and Decision Sciences and of Engineering and Public Policy; Wändi Bruine De Bruin, a postdoctoral associate in the Department of Social and Decision Sciences; and Claire Palmgren, a graduate student in the Department of Engineering and Public Policy. Other collaborators were Pamela Murray, director of adolescent medicine at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, and Joyce Penrose, professor of nursing at Slippery Rock University.

The Department of Social and Decision Sciences is an interdisciplinary department emphasizing connections between psychology, economics, risk analysis and decision-making. It is one of eight departments in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, the second largest academic unit at Carnegie Mellon. The college emphasizes interdisciplinary study in a technologically rich environment with an open and forward-thinking stance toward the arts and sciences.

Jonathan Potts | EurekAlert!
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