Adapting Developmental Research to Intervention Design: Applying Developmental Psychology to an AIDS Prevention Model for Urban African American Youth

Article excerpt

This article describes a program of research aimed at informing and improving AIDS prevention efforts during the transition to adolescence for urban African American youth and their families. The overall goal of this program is to apply basic developmental psychology research to intervention design and program delivery. Discussion of a theoretical model and preliminary descriptive data is presented, with specific attention paid to the implications for preventive intervention work and the need for ongoing collaboration with intervention and applied researchers as well as with communities targeted for intervention.


Current developmental research stresses the importance of considering both process (Sameroff & Chandler, 1975; Spencer & Dornbusch, 1990) and context (Bronfenbrenner, 1979; Moen, Elder, & Luscher, 1995) across a variety of domain-specific paradigms (Maccoby, 1984). More recently, the utility of these paradigms for the design and implementation of adolescent disease and pregnancy prevention and intervention programs has been of interest (Miller, Card, Paikoff, & Petersen, 1992; Millstein, Petersen, & Nightingale, 1993). In this newer research, the focus on programs and services is two-fold: first, to understand service use from the perspective of the service user; and second, to propose programs of research and intervention that will improve both users' perceptions of services and the impact of these services on promoting health and preventing health risk.

Appropriate methods to promote healthy behaviors among adolescents can best be determined through a combination of basic research and evaluation studies. Initial efforts that have been promising include those aimed at improving social problem-solving skills and assertiveness (Schinke & Gilchrist, 1984; Howard & McCabe, 1990; Miller et al., 1992). However, maximizing the efficacy and power of these approaches is likely to require a focus on specific groups to be targeted by the interventions as well as efforts aimed at developing basic and intervention research approaches to address the complexity of different contexts. Thus, it is important to consider the issues of social problem-solving and life skills training in a broader contextual model, an approach frequently exalted but seldom actually used (Szapocznik, 1996).

A developmental approach can assist with determining the most effective agents of influence, the salient issues that increase an individual's motivation to adopt targeted behaviors, and the appropriate behavioral outcomes to target. As has been written elsewhere (Brooks-Gunn & Paikoff, 1993; Feldman & Elliot, 1990; Paikoff, 1995; Parfenoff, Paikoff, Brooks-Gunn, Holmbeck, & Jarrett, 1995), important concerns for the transition to adolescence include issues of social relations, cognitive changes, and physical development. Until recently, however, developmental studies were seldom designed with the purpose of providing data for health promotion and disease prevention efforts in mind. Similarly, individuals involved with health promotion and disease prevention have seldom consulted with developmental psychologists to better target and inform these efforts. Two important conclusions can be drawn from the existing developmental literature as it relates to adolescent health promotion and disease prevention interventions. The first of these is that an understanding of the integration of normative developmental processes is important in order to devise optimal programs to promote health and prevent risk. The second is that almost none of the developmental data relevant to this line of inquiry pertains to or addresses the needs of African American youth living in urban poverty. Thus, a basic research study was undertaken to better understand the integration of these processes for these youth and to assist with the design and implementation of primary prevention programs targeting this population. …


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