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inoculation theory

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A theory of resistance to persuasion according to which most ordinary attitudes and beliefs are more or less resistant to change through having been exposed to repeated mild attacks. The theory predicts that cultural truisms that most people have never heard being questioned, such as It is a good idea to brush your teeth three times a day if possible, should be more vulnerable to persuasion, and this counter-intuitive prediction has been confirmed by experiments. The theory is based on the biological analogy of an organism that has been raised in a sterile, germ-free environment and that appears robust and healthy but is in reality vulnerable to infection, because it has not had the opportunity to develop defensive antibodies. Cultural truisms have also never been attacked, and defensive arguments have therefore never been developed, but their resistance to persuasion can be markedly increased by a process of inoculation, which involves exposing the recipients to relatively weak arguments against the truisms together with rebuttals that the recipients are either presented with or are required to think up for themselves. When the cultural truisms are later exposed to strong persuasive attacks, they turn out to be much more resistant to persuasion, even when the arguments used in the attacking messages are different from those presented in the inoculation procedure. The theory was formulated in 1964 by the US psychologist William J(ames) McGuire (1925–2007). See also attitude change. [From Latin inoculare, inoculatum to implant, from in into+oculus an eye or a bud]

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