UNM Nursing Professor Exploring Social Influences in Teen Pregnancy

            A new study in the UNM College of Nursing aims to help reduce the number of unintended adolescent pregnancies by looking at the psychological processes involved when an adolescent makes such decisions as becoming sexually active or using birth control.

The first-in-the-nation study will survey New Mexico youth about who they compare themselves to when making those decisions. Assistant Professor Beth Tigges, Ph.D., RN, CS, PNP, who recently received a three-year, $150,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to lead the study, said the results could someday be used to develop more effective prevention programs.

            "A lot of pregnancy programs haven't shown a lot of benefits because they haven't been based on well thought-out theories on behavior," said Dr. Tigges.

            Titled "Teen Pregnancy Prevention: Social Comparison Uses Scale," the study examines how the psychological process known as "social comparison," or comparing oneself to other people, affects teen pregnancy prevention.

            The primary aim of the study is to develop a way of measuring adolescents' use of social comparison related to pregnancy prevention. A secondary aim is to explore the relationships between adolescents' use of social comparison, where they are in the decision making process and their behavioral self-esteem.

            Dr. Tigges has launched the study this fall by conducting focus groups four groups of male students and four groups of female students, with eight to 10 in each group at Santa Fe High School.

            "I'm asking them, ‘Who do you compare yourself to when you think about teen pregnancy? Who do you want to be with? Who do you think about?' " said Dr. Tigges.

            With the findings from the focus groups, Dr. Tigges will develop a questionnaire to be administered to 500 or more students next year. The questionnaire will ask students whom they compare themselves to and affiliate with at different "stages of change" for example, when deciding to stay abstinent, changing from abstinence to having sex or changing from not using birth control to using it.

            The questionnaire will be used to develop a scale for measuring adolescents' use of social comparison.

            Knowing who teens compare themselves to, as well as why and how, will indicate what kinds of people and messages should be incorporated into teen pregnancy prevention programs in the future, Dr. Tigges said. She added that she wants to know not only what kinds of peers the teens associate with, but what kinds of adults as well.

            "For instance, do teens look at pregnant teens, or family members who became pregnant as teens, and think, ‘I don't want to be like that' or do they think, ‘that looks kind of neat and exciting?' Dr. Tigges asked. "Do teens want to be with someone worse off than them or do they want to be around role models?"

            The scale, she said, ultimately can be used to develop and test intervention programs.

            "We're trying a different approach to it," she said.

            Dr. Tigges has taught in the UNM College of Nursing since 1989 and is a practicing pediatric nurse practitioner at UNM Children's Hospital. She received her Bachelor's of Science in Nursing degree from Penn State University, her Master's of Science in Nursing from Yale University and her Ph.D. in Public Health and Social Psychology from Columbia University.

            Dr. Tigges previously has studied social comparison as it relates to adolescent condom use.

            Dr. Tigges is the only researcher in the country conducting this kind of study and is the third researcher in the UNM College of Nursing to receive National Institutes of Health funding in the last 18 months. 

For more information about the UNM College of Nursing, visit http://hsc.unm.edu/consg/




Contact: Lynn Melton, 272-3322

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