Published: Mon Mar 10, 2003Although Matthew Zagumny's research focuses on statistics and quantitative data, his investigation into a most personal behavior -- condom use -- communicates a message anyone can understand.
The Tennessee Tech University counseling and psychology professor's international research has led him to survey commercial sex workers, prisoners, military personnel and young adults in order to predict condom use among these at-risk groups. Zagumny has partnered with TTU professor Jadwiga Dolzycki to work at Poland's Lower Silesian University to teach classes and conduct research.
"Collaborating with two Silesian professors, we conducted surveys to examine the usefulness of the theory of planned behavior. The theory basically says attitudes toward a behavior and social norms are the best predictors of a person's future behavior," said Zagumny. "We examined the power of psychological attitudes and the norms of important others."
Important others in the study included sexual partners, health care providers and religious leaders.
"What we found in the United States and Europe is that social norms are generally more predictive of condom use than people's own attitudes," said Zagumny. "Some groups have more influence among certain populations. For instance, you can better predict a commercial sex worker's condom use by looking at what his/her sex partner or health care provider considers normal use."
The study found health care provider norms were "not at all" predictive for young adults' use of condoms.
Zagumny says he found parallels between the area of southwestern Poland he surveyed and the Upper Cumberland area, based on value systems and attitudes about sex education.
"The strong influence of the Catholic Church in Poland makes it very conservative, more so than the United States as a whole," he said. "Partnering with faith-based organizations can help open the doors to the message of condom use."
Closer to home, Zagumny says research efforts in Chicago surveying men and women of culture also support the theory. Working with the Greater Chicago Committee for HIV Prevention, he also found that condom use awareness messages may not have a significant effect on behavior.
"We found that if condoms weren't immediately available when needed, even those aware of the health risks who intended to use condoms weren't likely to stop in the heat of the moment," he said. "This may lead to different content in the messages in public service announcements and other literature created to influence risky behaviors."
The paper resulting from his work, "Evaluating Condom Use in Chicago: A Street Outreach Approach," won an award from the American Psychological Association.Zagumny, along with Dolzycki, will be returning to Lower Silesian University this May as guest professors. In July, he and his wife, Lisa, a TTU curriculum and instruction professor, will present at the International Doctoral Seminar in Education to faculty and doctoral students from Poland, Great Britain and the United Sates. She will present "History of American Education," and he will present "Transglobal Research Methods." The Zagumnys and Dolzycki previously lectured to the Lower Silesian University College of Education.