Comparing Perceptions with Actual Reports of Close Friend’s HIV Testing Behavior Among Urban Tanzanian Men


Men have lower rates of HIV testing and higher rates of AIDS-related mortality compared to women in sub-Saharan Africa. To assess whether there is an opportunity to increase men’s uptake of testing by correcting misperceptions about testing norms, we compare men’s perceptions of their closest friend’s HIV testing behaviors with the friend’s actual testing self-report using a unique dataset of men sampled within their social networks (n = 59) in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. We examine the accuracy and bias of perceptions among men who have tested for HIV (n = 391) and compare them to the perceptions among men who never tested (n = 432). We found that testers and non-testers did not differ in the accuracy of their perceptions, though non-testers were strongly biased towards assuming that their closest friends had not tested. Our results lend support to social norms approaches designed to correct the biased misperceptions of non-testers to promote men’s HIV testing.


Los hombres tienen tasas más bajas de utilización de la prueba de VIH y tasas más altas de mortalidad relacionada con el SIDA en comparación con las mujeres en África subsahariana. En este estudio evaluamos la oportunidad de incrementar la aceptación de la prueba de VIH por parte de hombres a través de corrigir los errores de percepción sobre las normas en el uso de la prueba de VIH. Comparamos percepciones de comportamientos relacionados con la prueba del VIH por parte de sus amigos más cercanos con datos reales de las pruebas de sus amigos, usando una base de datos única de redes sociales de hombres (n = 59) en Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Examinamos la precision y el prejuicio de las percepciones entre hombres que se hicieron la prueba del VIH (n = 391) y las comparamos con las percepciones de los hombres que nunca se hicieron la prueba del VIH (n = 432). Se encontraron que los hombres que se hicieron la prueba y los hombres que nunca se hicieron la prueba no mostraron diferencias significativas en la precisión de sus percepciones, aunque los hombres que no hicieron la prueba estaban fuertemente sesgados hacia el supuesto de que sus amigos más cercanos no se habían hecho la prueba. Nuestros resultados sugieren que los programas que fueron diseñados para corregir los errores de percepción sobre normas de la prueba del VIH con hombres que nunca se hicieron la prueba podrían promover la prueba del VIH con ellos.

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We wish to acknowledge the work and dedication of our study interviewers as well as our research team in Dar es Salaam, including Mrema Noel Kilonzo, Deus Kajuna, Brenda Mkony, Joyce Kondela and Gema Lambert. We also thank the anonymous reviewers for their comments on prior drafts. Finally, we would like to thank the participants of our study for their contributions.


Research reported in this publication was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health of the National Institutes of Health under Award Numbers R01MH098690 and F31MH103062. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

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Correspondence to Marta Mulawa.

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Mulawa, M., Yamanis, T.J., Balvanz, P. et al. Comparing Perceptions with Actual Reports of Close Friend’s HIV Testing Behavior Among Urban Tanzanian Men. AIDS Behav 20, 2014–2022 (2016).

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  • HIV testing
  • Misperceptions
  • Men
  • Tanzania