Several of the findings surprised the researchers - for example, the fact that HIV testing rates among this population were not higher at the locations where the participants were recruited, given that these locations attract large numbers of people with HIV.
"This finding is concerning because the venues all provide HIV testing and care right there," Ford said.
And there was an even bigger, perhaps counterintuitive surprise. The more strongly participants believed in AIDS conspiracy theories, the more likely they were to have been tested in the previous 12 months.
"We believe they might be proactively testing because they believe it can help them avoid the threats to personal safety that are described in many AIDS conspiracies," Ford said. "For instance, if I hold these conspiracy beliefs and a doctor tells me I tested negative, I might get tested again just to confirm that the result really is negative."
By contrast, individuals who reported mistrusting the government may not have been tested because the venues where they were recruited were, in fact, government entities, Ford said.
The study has some weaknesses. For instance, the study design did not allow the researchers to determine whether the participants held their beliefs before or after being tested; thus, the researchers couldn't tell what prompted their mistrust of the government or conspiracy beliefs. Also, it's possible that the prevalence of these theories is higher in this group than it is in the general public and that some participants may have been afraid to tell the truth.
The next step in the research is to study other groups of older adults to determine if these views are more widely held than just among the at-risk population the researchers studied.
Source: University of California - Los Angeles Health Sciences