While laboratory experiments to incur attitude change may produce effects, the experience in natural settings if often un-complimentary. Resistance to change is therefore an area of fascination for researchers. While it is thought of as positive that a person would be open minded; it is generally acknowledged that we adopt certain beliefs and reject others to guide us through life??s decisions (Eagly & Chaiken, 1993). These original ideas encouraged researchers to examine selectivity in informational processing in which people usually select positive and avoid dissonant information. Numerous theories have emerged since the 1950s including Cognitive Dissonance Theory, Congruity Theory and William McGuire??s Inoculation Theory. This essay will document the development of inoculation theory as well as the use of forewarning in forming resistance. Research evidence will be used to detail the workings of the theory and evaluate its usefulness in relation to resistance to persuasion. In addition, real life applications will be detailed to exhibit the theory??s practicality and usefulness.
To begin, McGuire built on the ??selective exposure?? idea of belief construction to examine resistance to persuasion; where selective exposure leaves one open to attack if adequate defenses aren??t formed (McGuire, 1961). He was also influenced by the Korean War and examined why prisoners of war were unable to defend against attack of their core beliefs about democracy and freedom. McGuire maintained that the most vulnerable attitudes are those which have seldom been attacked before, just as a body which has always lived in a sterile environment may be highly prone to infection if exposed (McGuire, 1961b). He developed the concept of ??cultural truisms?? referring to these uncontaminated beliefs widely held in a society. Generally people are not motivated or prepared to defend such truisms and so they may be open to persuasion (O??Keefe, 1990).
Inoculation pertains to the idea that beliefs may be protected against persuasion during forced exposure to belief attack. This theory uses an analogy of the body??s immunization against certain viruses, where administration of small doses of the virus helps a body to build up defense. Similarly, inoculation may be used to stimulate defense when attitudes are susceptible to attack. In Korea the American troops found their ideas hard to defend as they had no defensive arguments in place (Szabo & Pfau, 2002). McGuire maintained that to protect people from persuasion they must be trained both cognitively and motivationally to defend their beliefs (Eagly & Chaiken, 1993).
McGuire proposed two kinds of defense during inoculation: 1) supportive defense consisting of supportive arguments, and 2) inoculation defense consisting of the refutation of counter-arguments. Supportive defense was likened to a healthy lifestyle in the biological analogy which may generally support good health but may not completely protect from viruses (McGuire, 1964, as cited in Eagly & Chaiken, 1993). Tannenbaum promoted the idea of using supportive messages to strengthen attitudes but McGuire argued that support alone was not sufficient. He thought that a person is more resistant to change the more one is committed to an attitude so a stronger form of defense is required (Miller, 1973).
Refutational defense is a more powerful two-sided form of defense, consisting of counterarguments which are then refuted. To test this, McGuire conducted one study using four cultural truisms regarding health measures e.g. teeth-brushing, doctor??s check ups (McGuire, 1961b). He found that supportive and refutational defenses worked in harmony to protect one??s beliefs. Two-sided messages were found to be more effective for opinion change in participants who faced counter-arguments as these two-way messages served an inoculation effect against attitude change. Refutational defense was superior to supportive for existing counterarguments but inferior for novel counterarguments (McGuire, 1961b). He also added a temporal element suggesting a person may need a certain amount of time to form a defense against counterarguments, however by using a double defense technique; the time element may not be an issue. McGuire suggested a third form of defense called trivialisation, which could also be used to expand Festinger??s dissonance theory, if an argument/topic is trivialised it loses strength and may not be as persuasive as intended (Hogg & Vaughan, 2005).
Forewarning research in relation to persuasion has generally found that warning a person of an impending attack will reduce the impact of the counterargument once it is presented (O??Keefe, 1990). Threat is operationalized as forewarning in inoculation theory and posits that if a person is made aware that their belief may be vulnerable to attack, they may be encouraged to form resistance. Also it is thought that through forewarning, counterargument effectiveness is reduced. Researchers have studied two types of forewarning, 1) simple warning of upcoming persuasive intent of a message; 2) offers more information detailing the message topic and position, this second form aids persons in forming defensive counterarguments. Studies have found that forewarning can instil greater resistance to persuasion in people who are more highly involved in the topics at hand rather than irrelevant topics (O??Keefe, 1990).
One forewarning study (McGuire & Papageorgis ,1962) involved telling a person in advance that their beliefs regarding cultural truisms would either come under strong attack or not. This ??white propaganda?? should instil more defense-provoking threat to one??s belief than no forewarning. Opinions were measured regarding four health truisms. In their study McGuire & Papageorgis (1962) found that both supportive and refutational defenses increased effectiveness against attack on one??s beliefs if they were preceded by a forewarning of the upcoming persuasive attack. In this case resistance was more likely to be used against persuasion. Refutational pre-treatments consist of both threat and refutational pre-emption (replying to a counterargument before it occurs) which are seen as two complimentary components of inoculation. Instances of threat in refutational arguments are thought to cause a person to resist. While threat offers awareness to a person of their vulnerable situation, refutational pre-emption offers a person a chance to strengthen their attitude prior to attack. So threat is seen by McGuire as providing motivation, and refutational pre-emption is seen to provide scripts (Szabo & Pfau, 2002).
Forewarning along with refutational pre-emption has been found to be more effective than forewarning on its own. So if forewarning is possible in a situation it may be advisable if we want a person to maintain high levels of their beliefs. McGuire and Papageorgis?? study (1962) also showed that while cultural truisms are generally strongly held beliefs, if other studies were to use more controversial issues it is suspected that a person would be more aware of possible attack and therefore may be more motivated to defend their beliefs even in the absence of forewarning. These types of cases may have the opposite effect with persons perhaps avoiding the issues due to their ambiguous subject matter (McGuire & Papageorgis, 1962).
Inoculation theory has generated a vast body of research. But a lot of its empirical evidence remains contradictory. While a lot of evidence supports the biological analogy, evidence to support McGuire??s cognitive and motivational processes is more uncertain (Eagly & Chaiken, 1993). Eagly & Chaiken (1993) believe one drawback of inoculation theory is the absence of measures which could assess the processes thought to mediate resistance to change. Questions have also been raised about the boundary conditions of the theory and whether in fact attitudes need to be formed in a sterile environment to be vulnerable to attack. In addition, McGuire himself feared that inoculation theory may only apply to cultural truisms.
In contrast, subsequent research has proven that it can be applied more broadly, so the theory seems more robust than once thought. Considering more controversial issues, McGuire suggested that only supportive defense may be needed as a person may already be motivated against attack; they wouldn??t gain from refutational defense as they would only be reminded of potential counterarguments (McGuire, 1961b). In addition, in other incidences of non-truisms it is thought by researchers that people do not assume their beliefs are invulnerable; so refutational messages are not needed in addition to supportive messages (O??Keefe, 1990).
Some criticisms arose from certain researchers claiming that McGuire did not develop threat adequately. McGuire responded to these doubts by making a sub-category distinction between refutational same or different counterarguments used in a subsequent attack. He argued that if inoculation only served specific counterarguments then ??same?? messages should only demonstrate the inoculation effect. However if threat was part of inoculation and motivated one to protect their attitudes in any given situation, then it should work for both ??same?? and ??different?? messages. Subsequent research and measurement of threat has shown the latter effect, thereby demonstrating the functioning of ??threat?? within the theory (Eagly & Chaiken, 1993; Szabo & Pfau, 2002).
Questions have arisen regarding what level of involvement must exist between the receiver and attitude object to elicit an inoculation effect. One study tested inoculation on 790 participants, and examined the role of threat and involvement. Controversial topics such as attitudes towards possession of handguns and marijuana in the USA were used. Inoculation was shown to produce threat, which led to resistance; with resistance being more pronounced in more highly involved persons. The main findings found that a specified level of involvement must exist for resistance to form; low levels do not work as receivers do not become sufficiently motivated and at high levels they are so motivated that the treatment has no real effect. In addition, involvement was seen to induce resistance more so than threat. Overall however, this study revealed that threat and involvement do not fully explain the process of inoculation. Other elements have therefore been examined (Pfau, Tusing, Koerner, Lee, Godbold, Penaloza, Yang & Hong, 1997).
Additional studies have also attempted to expand the theory, with certain researchers examining the differing effects of ??affect?? messages compared to cognitive messages in relation to inoculation and resistance. Only minor differences in effectiveness have also been found between the two however. Other elements such as self-efficacy have been examined in relation to inoculation, with self-efficacy found to reduce threat and counter-arguments, as persons with high self-efficacy seem more confident in their ability to defend their attitudes. Another study examined anger as a construct and found that threat is positively related to anger, which is positively related to resistance (Szabo & Pfau, 2002).
In everyday life, Inoculation theory has been applied to numerous programmes, e.g. in health education, focussing on prevention strategies in relation to smoking or alcohol abuse. For example one study (Duryea, 1983) exposed teenagers to arguments promoting drinking and driving which served as the weak attack condition on the teenagers?? disapproving attitudes. Role-playing was then conducted in which the teenagers had to resist the pro-alcohol arguments. These interventions seemed to work, with teenagers less likely to drink and drive compared to control participants.
Other applications of inoculation theory are evident in the public relations context. Some companies have drawn upon advocacy advertising campaigns which inoculate their customers against the possible negative effects of the company??s possible health or environmental issues. For example, advocacy advertisements on certain issues have been used by large oil companies as a form of inoculation to protect the company from outside criticism (Szabo & Pfau, 2002). Additionally, a fashion house may support a group such as PETA to inoculate against its use of animal fur for fashion. Another possible use of inoculation is in relation to sexual activity among teens. It is thought that while adolescents are usually against sexual activity, as they grow older their attitudes weaken, so inoculation may work to promote safer sexual habits (Pfau, Dillard & Keller, 2000, as cited in Szabo & Pfau, 2002).
Despite inoculation theory??s success and numerous applications already discussed, many researchers feel the theory requires further investigation as some are unsure about the processes at work within the theory. Forewarning appears to have a prominent effect on the processes involved in inoculation. However, Eagly & Chaiken (1993) maintain that the boundary conditions of this theory need further investigation. In conclusion, we have seen that involvement is thought to be central to the workings of this theory. Therefore, controlling the level of involvement needed from the receiver is necessary in constructing various types of messages or when using mediums such as TV or print media (Pfau et al., 1997). Also, it must be noted that while attitudes may seem vulnerable in situations of forced exposure, in situations that allow self-selected exposure, attitudes are more resistant to persuasion (Hovland, 1959). It is necessary to keep this in mind when developing persuasive programmes or campaigns.