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Inoculation theory

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Inoculation Theory was developed by social psychologist William J. McGuire in
1961 to explain more about how attitudes and beliefs change, and more
importantly, how to keep existing attitudes and beliefs consistent in the face of
persuasion attempts. Inoculation Theory continues to be studied today
by communication, social psychology, and other social science researchers. The
theory has been proposed and assessed in various contexts, including politics (e.g.,
Pfau et al., 1990; see Compton & Ivanov, 2013, for a review), health campaigns
(e.g., Pfau & VanBockern, 1994; see Compton, Jackson, & Dimmock, 2016, for a
review), marketing (e.g., Compton & Pfau, 2004), education (Compton, 2011),
among others. ( See Banas & Rains, 2010, for a meta-analysis, and Compton, 2013,
for a narrative overview.)

1Medical analogy



4Explanation of the theory

4.1Key components

4.2Refutational same and refutational different

5Relevant research

5.1Political campaigning




7See also



Medical analogy[edit]
Inoculation can best be explained by a medical inoculation analogy. Indeed, the
analogy served as the inaugural exemplar for how inoculation confers resistance. As
McGuire (1961a) initially explained, a medical inoculation works by exposing a body
to weakened virusesstrong enough to trigger a response (i.e., the production of

antibodies), but not so strong as to overwhelm the body's resistance. Attitudinal

inoculation seems to work the same way: Expose someone to weakened
counterarguments, triggering a process of counterarguing which eventually confers
resistance to later, stronger persuasive messages.
The idea of inoculation was derived from previous research studying one-sided and
two-sided messages. One-sided messages are supportive messages to strengthen
existing attitudes, but with no mention of counterpositions. Two-sided messages
present both counterarguments and refutations of those counterarguments
(Lumsdaine & Janis, 1953).
One of the greatest motivators for McGuire was the aftermath of the Korean War.
Nine US prisoners of war, when given the opportunity, elected to remain with their
previous captors. Many assumed they were brainwashed, so McGuire and other
social scientists turned to ways of conferring resistance to persuasion. This was a
change in extant persuasion research, which was almost exclusively concerned with
how to make messages more persuasive, and not the other way around (Gass &
Seiter, 2003).
McGuire led a series of experiments assessing inoculation's efficacy and adding
nuance to our understanding for how it works (for a review, see Compton, 2013;
Compton & Pfau, 2005). The early studies (e.g., McGuire & Papageorgis, 1961)
limited testing of inoculation theory to cultural truisms, or beliefs accepted without
consideration (e.g., people should brush their teeth daily.) Later development of the
theory extended inoculation to more controversial and contested topics in the
contexts of politics (see Compton & Ivanov, 2013), health (see Compton, Jackson, &
Dimmock, 2015), marketing, and others. The theory has also been applied in
education to help prevent substance abuse. [1]
Additionally, more recent research has examined inoculation's effects on targets
besides attitudes, including task self-efficacy (Jackson, Compton, Whiddett,
Anthony, & Dimmock, 2015). Other work has confirmed that inoculation's efficacy
can be boosted with other persuasion processes, like reactance (Miller et al., 2013).
Explanation of the theory[edit]
Inoculation theory states that to prevent persuasion it is necessary to strengthen
preexisting attitudes, beliefs, or opinions. First, the receiver must be made aware of
the potential vulnerability of an existing position (e.g., attitude, belief). This
establishes threat and initiates defenses to future attacks. The idea is that when a
weak argument is presented in the inoculation message, processes of refutation or
other means of protection will prepare for stronger arguments later. It is critical that
the attack is strong enough to keep the receiver defensive, but weak enough to not
actually change those preexisting ideas. This will hopefully make the receiver
actively defensive and allow them to create arguments in favor of their preexisting

thoughts. The more active the receiver becomes in his or her defense the more it
will strengthen their own attitudes, beliefs, or opinions (McGuire, 1964).
Key components[edit]
There are two basic key components to successful inoculation. The first is threat,
which provides motivation to protect one's attitudes or beliefs (Pfau, 1997a). Threat
is a product of the presence of counterarguments in an inoculation message and/or
an explicit forewarning of an impending challenge to an existing belief (see
Compton & Ivanov, 2012).
Refutational preemption is the second component. Refutational preemption is the
cognitive part of the process. It is the ability to activate one's own argument for
future defense and strengthen their existing attitudes through counterarguing (Pfau,
1997). Scholars have also explored whether other resistance processes might be at
work, including affect. Most recently, inoculation researchers have turned to the
presence and function of word-of-mouth communication, or post-inoculation talk
(see Compton & Pfau, 2009), following exposure to inoculation messages (e.g.,
Ivanov et al, 2015).
Refutational same and refutational different[edit]
While there are many studies that have been conducted comparing different
treatments of inoculation, there is one specific comparison that is mentioned
throughout various studies. This is the comparison between what is known as
refutational same and refutational different messages. A refutational same message
is an inoculation treatment that refutes specific potential counterarguments that will
appear in the subsequent persuasion message, while refutational different
treatments are refutations that are not the same as those present in the impending
persuasive message (Pfau et al., 1990). Pfau and his colleagues (1990) developed a
study during the 1988 United States presidential election. The Republicans were
claiming that the Democratic candidate was known to be lenient when it came to
the issue of crime. The researchers developed a refutational same message that
stated that while the Democratic candidate was in favor of tough sentences, merely
tough sentences could not reduce crime. The refutational different message
expanded on the candidate's platform and his immediate goals if he were to be
elected. The study showed comparable results between the two different
treatments. Importantly, as McGuire and others had found previously, inoculation
was able to confer resistance to arguments that were not specifically mentioned in
the inoculation message.
Relevant research[edit]
Political campaigning[edit]
Compton and Ivanov (2013) offer a comprehensive review of political inoculation
scholarship and outline new directions for future work.
Sample studies include:

Pfau and some of his colleagues examined inoculation through the use of direct mail
during the 1988 presidential campaign. The researchers were specifically interested
in comparing inoculation and post hoc refutation. Post hoc refutation is another form
of building resistance to arguments, however, instead of building resistance prior to
future arguments, like inoculation, it attempts to restore original beliefs and
attitudes after the counterarguments have been made. Results of the research
reinforced prior conclusions that refutational same and different treatments both
increase resistance to attacks. More important, results also indicated inoculation
was superior to post hoc refutation when attempting to protect original beliefs and
attitudes. (Pfau et al., 1990)
Compton, Jackson, and Dimmock (2015) offer a comprehensive review of health
inoculation scholarship and outline new directions for future work.
Sample studies include:
1. Pfau and his colleagues (1992) examined the role of inoculation when attempting
to prevent adolescents from smoking. One of the main goals of the study was to
examine longevity and persistence of inoculation. They took a group of elementary
school students in South Dakota and had the students watch a video warning them
of future pressures to smoke. In the first year, resistance was highest among those
with low self-esteem (Pfau et al., 1992). At the end of the second year, students in
the group showed more attitudinal resistance to smoking than they did previously
(Pfau & Van Bockern 1994). Importantly, the study and its follow-up demonstrate
the long-lasting effects of inoculation treatments.
2. Parker, Ivanov, and Compton (2012) found that inoculation messages can be an
effective deterrent against pressures to engage in unprotected sex and binge
drinkingeven when only one of these issues is mentioned in the health message.
Sample studies include:
1. Compton and Pfau (2004) extended inoculation theory into the realm of credit
card marketing targeting college students. They wondered if inoculation could help
protect college students against dangerous levels of credit card debt and/or help
convince them to increase their efforts to pay down any existing debt. The results
were encouraging. Inoculation seemed to protect students' healthy attitudes about
debt and some of their behavioral intentions. Also, Compton and Pfau found some
evidence that those who were inoculated were more likely to talk to their friends
and family about issues of credit card debt.
2. Ivanov, Parker, and Compton (2011) proposed inoculation as a means for helping
consumers work through post-purchase dissonance.

Inoculation is a theory developed to strengthen existing attitudes and beliefs and

build resistance to future counterarguments. For inoculation to be successful it is
critical that a threat (motivation for resistance) is imposed upon these existing ideas
and refutational preemption (ability to build defenses to potential
counterarguments) takes place after the inoculation. The argument that is
presented through inoculation must be strong enough to initiate motivation to
maintain current attitudes and beliefs, but weak enough that the receiver will refute
the counterargument (Compton, 2013; McGuire, 1964). Inoculation has been proven
successful through many different trials and research. This article attempts to
highlight all vital parts of the theory, however, there is a large amount of quality
research on the theory that was not mentioned. Also, while numerous studies have
tested the theory, there continues to be a need for improvement and new
See also[edit]

Social Psychology




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Pfau, M. (1997). The inoculation model of resistance to influence. In

F.J. Boster & G. Barnett (Eds.), Progress in communication
sciences (Vol. 13, pp. 133171). Norwood, NJ:Ablex.

Pfau, M., Kenski, H. C., Nitz, M., & Sorenson, J. (1990). Efficacy of
inoculation strategies in promoting resistance to political attack
messages: ApplicatiItalic texton to direct mail. Communication
Monographs, 57, 1-12.

Pfau, M., Tusing, K. J., Koerner, A. F., Lee, W., Godbold, L. C., Penaloza, L. J.,
Yang, V. S., & Hong, Y. (1997a). Enriching the inoculation construct: The role of
criticalItalic text components in the process of resistance. Human
Communication Research, 24, 187-215.

Pfau, M. & Van Bockern, S. (1994). The persistence of inoculation in

conferring resistance to smoking initiation among adolescents: The second
year. Human Communication Research, 20, 413-430.

Pfau, M., Van Bockern, S., & Kang, J.G. (1992). Use of inoculation to promote
resistance to smoking initiation among adolescents. Communication
Monographs, 59, 213-230.


Social psychology