Perry N. Halkitis
"What I try to understand in my work [on drug use and sexual risk taking] is how psychological processes influence decision-making about health."
"What I try to understand in my work,' says Perry Halkitis, 'is how psychological processes influence decision-making about health. What drives people to do healthy things and unhealthy things?"
Halkitis' research has focused on drug use and sexual risk taking, primarily among gay men. "It's really easy to say 92% of drug users also take sexual risks," he says. "I want to know why they do drugs, what drugs do they do, with whom do they do them, and how does that look different for men and for women, for gay men and for straight men, for young men and for old men?"
With 5 federally funded studies under his direction, and as Director of Steinhardt's Center for Health, Identity, Behavior and Prevention Studies (CHIBPS), Halkitis has ample opportunities to explore the answers to those questions. Sometimes the answers are surprising. Halkitis' research on illegal drug use and adherence to anti-retroviral drug regimens has revealed that regular drug users are often better at taking their medications as directed than recreational, or 'club drug' users.
Undergraduates often volunteer at the CHIBPS center and several graduate and postdoctoral students work closely with Halkitis on his research projects. Halkitis is enthusiastic about collaborating with students. "They come to me with an interest in this work and are able to really connect what they are studying with what I'm doing," he says.
As a member of the NYU Medical School Center for AIDS Research, Halkitis also investigates genetic resistance to HIV. Attempting to understand participants' beliefs about why they have not become HIV positive is a key element of the study. "There is a whole range of beliefs," Halkitis says. "Most men don't believe they have a genetic mutation. They think that it's just luck."
Halkitis is the recipient of numerous honors and awards. In 1999 he was the American Psychological Foundation Placek Award winner for his work on methamphetamine use among gay men and received two awards from the American Psychological Association for his research on HIV and AIDS. He also won the NYU Daniel E. Griffiths research award for his study of masculinity among seropositive gay men and was elected a Fellow in the New York Academy of Medicine. More recently, Halkitis received an Outstanding Achievement Award from the American Psychological Association Committe on Lesbian, Gay & Bisexual Concerns, and was elected as a Fellow of the Society of Behavioral Medicine.
"In the past, there has been a tendency in psychology to look at lives in a decontextualized way." Halkitis' research aims to supply lifestyle and other behavior-related details that have gone missing in previous studies, so that the context in which health choices are made becomes clearer. "I like to look at the whole person," he says, "'and that's what my work really tries to do."