The Role Of Forewarning And Inoculation Psychology Essay

The present essay will demonstrate the role of forewarning and inoculation in the process of resistance to persuasion. The core tenets of forewarning, inoculation and its theoretical basis will firstly be outlined (McGuire, 1961a). Subsequently, the inoculation theoretical system will be evaluated, in conjunction with existing evidence. The merits and shortfalls of the inoculation theoretical framework will be accentuated, in addition to that of early and contemporary evidence regarding forewarning and inoculation. It will be argued that whilst inoculation theory represents a valuable contribution to understanding the cognitive processes underlying resistance to persuasion, it may benefit from modifications in light of existing empirical evidence (Farkas & Anderson, 1976; Visser & Mirabile, 2004). The applicability of the two factors will be discussed and illustrative examples will be employed, to demonstrate the value of applying forewarning and inoculation to resistance to persuasion in everyday life (Johnson, 2008; Pfau, Kenski, Nitz, & Sorenson, 1990).

The affect of forewarning on persuasion

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Forewarning refers to the provision of advance knowledge to a person that they are to be the target of an impending persuasion attempt. This may occur by providing the person with the content of an impending persuasive message, or by merely signalling to a persuasive intent (McGuire & Papageorgis, 1962). It has been demonstrated that forewarning attenuates or produces resistance to the effects of a persuasion attack on ones attitudes (Petty & Cacioppo, 1977), possibly, by operating as a catalyst for people to structure and rehearse counter-attitudinal arguments, as a defence towards attitude change (Pfau, Tusing, Koerner, Lee, Godbold, Penaloza, & Yang, 1997).Thus, one may argue that forewarning may be conceptualised as a form of inoculation, the explanation and theoretical account of this effect now follows (Petty & Cacioppo, 1977).

The inoculation effect and its theoretical assumptions

The inoculation effect refers to a method of inducing resistance to persuasion. Its theoretical premises reside in the selective exposure hypothesis (McGuire, 1961a) which proposes that people selectively avoid exposure to information which may arouse dissonance, such as counter-arguments against ones attitudes. The attitudes harboured are thus, likely to go unquestioned and become overprotected, which may promote ones overconfidence in an attitudes invulnerability (McGuire, 1961b; McGuire & Papageorgis, 1962). In this instance, attitudes are particularly vulnerable upon exposure to strong counter-arguments, at future point in time. In essence, the ideological aseptic environment renders the person unpracticed in defending existing attitudes and thus, unable to deal with counter-arguments which are encountered subsequently (McGuire, 1961b).

McGuire utilised a biological analogy of immunisation, for understanding the inoculation effect (McGuire, 1961a). He reasoned that resistance to persuasion operated by similar principles to that of inoculating the body against disease. By injecting a small dose of infection into the body, the persons bodily defences become stimulated yet without becoming overwhelmed, thus enabling the person to develop resistance to the infection (Compton & Pfau, 2008; McGuire & Papageorgis, 1962). Utilising this metaphor, it follows that, the inoculation effect induces resistance to persuasion by initially exposing a person to a diluted or weakened counter-attitudinal argument (inoculation message), to stimulate the attitude defences, which in turn facilitates the development of effective refutations when exposed to stronger arguments. It is imperative to note, that akin to the immunisation process, the inoculation message must be strong enough to promote defence, yet it must not overpower the existing attitude to the extent that it may induce attitude change (McGuire, 1961a; 1961b).

According to Pfau (1997) the key components to an effective inoculation are threat and refutational pre-emption. The former is primarily concerned with providing motivation for persuasion resistance to protect ones attitudes, whereas, the latter represents a cognitive process of activating and strengthening ones attitude for future defence by way of counter-arguing (Compton & Pfau, 2008). For the purposes of the present essay it is further necessary to note that McGuire delineated two forms of persuasive defence: refutational and supportive. The former operates by the principles of inoculation, strengthening resistance by pre-exposing the person to counter-attitudinal arguments, in addition to a detailed refutation of the counterarguments (McGuire, 1961b; McGuire & Papageorgis, 1962). In contrast, the latter form strengthens resistance through provision of additional arguments which support existing attitudes (McGuire, 1961b). The aforementioned terms will be utilised throughout the essay to demonstrate the superiority, value and applicability of the inoculation effect in theoretical, empirical and applied terms.

Evaluation of the theory and evidence for forewarning and the inoculation effect

This essay will now make reference to the merits and shortfalls of the theoretical framework of inoculation and evaluate the evidence in support and against the operation of forewarning and inoculation in resistance to persuasion. Currently there are numerous studies which indicate that both forewarning and inoculation perform key roles in the process of resistance to persuasion (Compton & Pfau, 2008; Pfau et al., 1997). To commence, existing evidence suggests that forewarning may be solely sufficient for inducing resistance to persuasion (Benoit, 1998; Freedman & Sears, 1965; Kiesler & Kiesler, 1964). It has been demonstrated that when forewarned of an impending exposure to a counter-attitudinal persuasive message, people subsequently generated fewer arguments in favour of the persuasive message (Cialdini, Levy, Herman, Kozlowski, & Petty, 1976) or more arguments which refuted it (Chen, Reardon, Rea, & Moore, 1992; Petty & Cacioppo, 1979; Romero, Agnew, & Insko, 1996). Furthermore, there is also evidence to suggest that forewarning need not be explicit to promote resistance, but may also be implied (Wood & Quinn, 2003). The outlined findings are in line with the aforementioned theoretical assumptions of the inoculation effect, as the anticipation of an impending persuasive argumentation, encouraged people to form counterarguments in resistance to persuasion (Pfau et al., 1997). Furthermore, it seems that what may be key, is the anticipation of a persuasive attack, as forewarning is instrumental even when not explicit (Wood & Quinn, 2003). This assumption is also congruent with the theoretical underpinnings of the inoculation effect as in either case, forewarning promoted counter-argumentation to safeguard against later persuasion (McGuire & Papageorgis, 1962). This evidence demonstrates the merits and value of forewarning for conferring resistance to persuasion and indicates that it may operate in line with the theoretical premises of inoculation.

There is evidence to suggest however, that the effects of forewarning may not be direct in nature. Rather forewarning may trigger the generation of counter-arguments and decrease the overall effectiveness of a persuasion attack, only when the attitude-object targeted by persuasion, is important or salient to the receiver. Thus, it has been suggested that the importance of the attitude-object may operate as a prerequisite to forewarning (Petty & Cacioppo, 1979), or as a moderator for the effect of counter-arguing on persuasion defence, which has been triggered by forewarning (Pfau et al., 1997). Petty and Cacioppo (1979) identified that when the attitude-object was of low importance forewarning did not confer resistance to persuasion, instead high importance was required for forewarning to exert an effect. In distinct contrast, Zuwerink-Jacks and Devine (2000) identified that forewarning exerted a more pronounced effect when the attitude-object was of low rather than high importance. One may argue that the latter findings demonstrate more congruence with the assumptions of the inoculation literature, as they may be interpreted as follows; in the high importance condition, participants may have already been motivated and willing to defend their attitude against a persuasive attack and thus, forewarning may have been less necessary to confer resistance (McGuire & Papageorgis, 1962; Pfau et al., 1997). Despite the asymmetric findings, both studies suggest that forewarning may not be sufficient to activate resistance to persuasion (Petty & Cacioppo, 1979; Zuwerink-Jacks & Devine, 2000), which diminishes its perceived instrumentality which emerged in prior studies (Chen et al., 1992; Cialdini et al., 1976; Petty & Cacioppo, 1979; Romero et al., 1996). The essay will later return to this issue and address the relative contribution of forewarning to the defence against persuasion.

Previous research has demonstrated that the effectiveness of forewarning may be enhanced when accompanied by either the refutation or supportive defence, with its maximum instrumentality in inducing resistance emerging in the latter combination (McGuire & Papageorgis, 1962). This essay argues that this finding is in line with the theoretical premises of the inoculation effect, as forewarning is a less necessary motivating force in the refutational defence, as the person concerned has an already established a repertoire of counterarguments prior to a persuasive attempt. Whereas, in the case of the supportive defence, a persuasive attack is less likely to be anticipated, as the persons attitude integrity was previously unchallenged (McGuire, 1961b). Thus, the benefits afforded by a forewarning signal to prepare for an impending attitude attack through generating counterarguments, may be more marked, in this instance (McGuire & Papageorgis, 1962). Akin to the prior research implicating the role of the attitude-object in resistance (Petty & Cacioppo, 1979), the present findings indicate that forewarning may not be sufficient to activate resistance to persuasion.

In addition, research has demonstrated that forewarning may operate to enhance the effects of inoculation and thus, the two factors may operate in tandem to induce resistance to persuasion (Pau et al., 1997). It has been suggested however, that the small effect sizes which emerged in this study, contests the instrumentality of forewarning in the process of persuasion resistance (Pfau et al., 1997). However, the process of inoculation is complex in nature, particularly in real life circumstance. Thus, any variable may only account for a limited proportion of the variance and therefore, forewarning may account for a piece of a larger more complex puzzle for understanding the process of persuasion resistance (Eagly & Chaiken, 1993 in Pfau et al., 1997). In light of the aforementioned two pieces of evidence, the essay will now turn to the existing evidence which merits and disputes the specific value of the inoculation effect, together with its theoretical foundations.

A plethora of research exists to suggest that inoculation may perform a pivotal role in conferring resistance to persuasion. Papageorgis and McGuire (1961) demonstrated that prior exposure to weak counter-attitudinal arguments, promoted the attitudes resistance towards a subsequent persuasive attack, regardless of whether the content of the persuasive arguments were the same or novel to that presented at the time of inoculation. This finding, which suggests that inoculation operates in a generalised form, has been replicated successfully (McGuire & Papageorgis, 1962; Pfau et al., 1990). Cumulatively, this research is indicative that it is the process of counter-arguing which is of fundamental importance for conferring resistance, rather than matching the specific content of the arguments at inoculation and persuasion. This evidence provides support for the core logic of inoculation theory and furthermore, is indicative that inoculation may perform a pivotal role in the process of persuasion resistance (McGuire, 1961b).

Further research indicates that the aforementioned findings of persuasion resistance can be interpreted in the context of attitude accessibility or activation, rather than solely in terms of a counter-arguing process. It has been demonstrated that the pre-exposure to counter-attitudinal arguments activates attitudinal nodes which renders the attitude more accessible in memory (Compton & Pfau, 2008; Pfau, Compton, Parker, Wittenberg, An, & Ferguson, 2004). What may be derived from this research is that it may be the activation of the attitude at the time of inoculation, which confers resistance to subsequent persuasion. This proposition can be used to interpret the aforementioned findings of generalised resistance (McGuire & Papageorgis, 1962; Pfau et al., 1990), as the inoculation induced resistance occurred regardless of whether the arguments in the persuasion attack were similar or novel to that presented at the inoculation stage. One may thus argue, that it may be the activation of the attitude and the enhanced accessibility of the attitude which ensues, that may be critical for the way inoculation confers resistance to persuasion (Pfau, Ivanov, Houston, Haigh, Sims, & Gilchrist, 2005). This contention is challenging for inoculation theory whose focus is primarily concerned with the influence of forewarning and counter-arguing on resistance (Compton & Pfau, 2008). Thus, there may be additional cognitive mechanisms implicated in the process of persuasion resistance.

One must be tentative however, to adopt this assertion, as the role of the counter-argument has been identified as key to the process of resistance, with recent research suggesting that one may not disregard the influence of the counterarguments content in conferring resistance. Recent research indicates that a fit between the attitude base (cognitive or affective) and the counterargument content presented at inoculation (cognitive or affective), generates the most pronounced resistance to a later persuasive attack (Ivanov, Pau, & Parker, 2009). This evidence is a key development as prior research had indicated that the matching advantage for inoculation solely occurred in the cognitive combination and thus, not the affective combination (Lee & Pfau, 1998 in Ivanov et al., 2009). Although this evidence falls short of appraising the direct value of inoculation and the accompanying process of counterarguing in conferring resistance, it demonstrates that the pivotal role of counter-arguing and inoculation cannot be disregarded and thus, inoculation may perform a key role in persuasion resistance.

It does appear however, that the influence of inoculation on resistance to persuasion may not represent a direct causal process as that suggested by McGuires theoretical system (Farkas & Anderson, 1976). For instance, the importance of the attitude-object and active (passive) involvement in inoculation, have also to be implicated in the process. Akin to forewarning research, high importance of the attitude-object has been identified to operate as a precondition for inoculation effectiveness (Pfau, 1992; Pfau et al., 1997), with effects of pronounced persuasion also emerging for attitudes which are regarded as more important to the persuasion recipient (Kamins & Assael, 1987). As this pattern emerged for both forewarning and inoculation, the importance of the attitude-object or the attitude in general, may represent a worthwhile extension of the theoretical assumptions of inoculation theory. Furthermore, it may be a worthwhile venture for future investigation to examine the impact of the attitude-object on resistance to persuasion further, as inconsistencies in the patterns of findings have previously emerged (Petty & Cacioppo, 1979; Zuwerink-Jacks & Devine, 2000).

The impact of the social context may also influence the effectiveness of inoculation, a facet which is not explicitly implied in the inoculation theoretical framework. For instance, if the pre-exposure (weakened) counter-attitudinal argument is examined with like-minded others, the inoculation has been identified as more effective in solidifying resistance to persuasion (Visser & Mirabile, 2004). This indicates that the process of inoculation and resistance are influenced by the immediate social context and thus, the theoretical foundations of inoculation theory may allow for the operation of social factors in conferring resistance.

It has further been identified that whether the person actively engages in or passively attends to the refutation process of counter-arguing may also exert an effect. McGuire demonstrated that passive pre-exposure was superior to active in producing resistance, when subsequent counterarguments adopt the same form as those previously refuted. In contrast, active was superior to passive pre-exposure in producing resistance towards novel counterarguments (McGuire, 1961a). However, congruent with Papageorgis and McGuire (1961), within passive and active conditions, differences in persuasion resistance to the same or novel counterarguments did not emerge as significant, but merely trivial. This indicates that adopting an active strategy of inoculation may be required to induce resistance to subsequent counter-arguments which are novel. Thus, providing credence to the proposition that inoculation alone may not confer a direct impact on resistance to persuasion (Farkas & Anderson, 1976).

A limitation inherent in many of the aforementioned studies, particularly those conducted by McGuire (1961a; 1961b) and McGuire and Papageorgis (1962), is that cultural ‘truisms’ were utilised as the target attitudes of inoculation. One may argue that such attitudes are not representative of the diverse niche of attitudes one typically harbours, thus questioning the generalisability of findings. However, the researchers sacrificed generality for precision, as cultural truisms are a valuable point of departure for examining inoculation, as they represent attitudes which are most likely to be ideologically aseptic (McGuire 1961a; 1961b; McGuire & Papageorgis, 1962).

Despite this reasoning, it has been further suggested that the instrumentality of inoculation may be restricted to attitudes which are not controversial in nature (McGuire & Papageorgis, 1962), thus bestowing a further potential limitation to the inoculation theory. This essay further argues that the theoretical premises of inoculation may be adjusted to accommodate attitudes which deviate from that traditionally utilised in inoculation research. For instance, a person harbouring controversial attitudes or attitudes which do not fit socio-cultural norms, may be aware that their attitudes are more prone to challenge and thus, they may be readily prepared to counter-argue their position, with a direct inoculation treatment merely operating to accentuate the defence (McGuire, 1961a). Thus, inoculation may exert an effect on conferring resistance to persuasion, however, it is anticipated that the contribution to resistance may be less significant to that observed for cultural ‘truisms’ (McGuire & Papageorgis, 1962).

The aforementioned evidence supports several predictions of the inoculation theoretical system, thus reflecting its merits for understanding persuasion resistance. However, several limitations prevail which may be addressed by conducting further research, particularly utilising more diverse attitudes (McGuire & Papageorgis, 1962), in conjunction with potential factors which may contribute to inoculations effect on persuasion resistance (Kamins & Assael, 1987; Visser & Mirabile, 2004).

Application of inoculation to everyday life

The principle of inoculation can be saliently applied to real life situations. Two particular examples of this relate to maintaining consumer loyalty and as a strategy for resisting the influence of political attacks on a candidates character or position on issues. For instance, a chemical company may safeguard the loyalty of its consumers by issuing media statements of environment pollution, in order to inoculate its consumers against subsequent accusations of poor environmental conduct from pro-environment groups or competing companies (Szybillo & Heslin, 1973).

In terms of the political realm, the 2008 USA presidential election campaigns, saliently demonstrate the operation of inoculation tactics to safeguard against counter-attitudinal attacks by the opposition. Obamas campaign utilised negative press comments and television advertisements issued by the McCain opposition, as small doses of the arguments against Obamas character and position on political issues. This pre-exposure enabled Obamas campaign to prepare for an anticipated stronger challenge by McCain to his position and to furthermore, generate refutations, by explaining his economic and social policy proposals, in a subsequent public political debate (Johnson, 2008; Pfau et al., 1990). This demonstrates that inoculation can be utilised as a viable strategy for instilling resistance to persuasion in real world situations. The present essay will now turn to further address the applicability of forewarning and inoculation to everyday life utilising the existing body of evidence.

Discussion of the applicability of forewarning and inoculation to everyday life.

The essay previously mentioned illustrative examples of the application of inoculation to everyday life. Presently, it is the overall merits and limitations of utilising the processes of forewarning and inoculation to confer persuasion resistance in everyday life situations, which will be addressed utilising supporting evidence.

Existing evidence suggests that forewarning may be a useful mechanism to induce resistance towards the influence of marketing strategies and media influence, which may otherwise be seen as innocuous. It has been suggested that forewarning can be effective in inducing resistance either by providing the content of an impending persuasive message or by merely signalling to a persuasive intent (McGuire & Papageorgis, 1962). Warnings of impending persuasive telephone marketing appeal can develop the persons awareness of a callers intent and thus, can enable people to bolster their defences and resist the persuasive sales pitch (Wood & Quinn, 2003). Moreover, forewarning adolescents of the specific content of potential media pressure to engage in drug use, has been identified to instigate the formation of resistance to the media messages to ensure that existing attitudes are protected (Bruvold, 1993). Thus, warning adolescents of the potential persuasive content inherent in media messages, or warning people of the persuasive intent of a telephone-marketer, may represent viable everyday applications of forewarning to conferring resistance (Bruvold, 1993; Wood & Quinn, 2003). However, the utility of forewarning may be limited in its application as in real life situations, as it often transpires that one does not possess advance awareness of an impending persuasive attack (Wood & Quinn, 2003). Thus, the present essay will contend that inoculation may afford greater applicability potential.

There is a plethora of existing evidence which indicates the value of inoculation in preparing people to resist unwanted persuasion, in real life situations. The merits of applying inoculation to everyday life situations can be evidenced, in terms of conferring resistance to product advertising, particularly due to the pervasiveness and potent persuasive potential of marketing appeals (Compton & Pfau, 2004; Szybillo & Heslin, 1973). Furthermore, several research teams have identified the utility of inoculation procedures to attenuate the persuasive influence of teenage peer pressure to smoke (Bruvold, 1993), consume alcohol (Godbold & Pfau, 2000), engage in sexual activity (Kirby, Barth, Leland, & Fetro, 1991), participate in criminal gangs (Breen & Matusitz, 2009) and even in terms of committing plagiarism (Compton & Pfau, 2008). This evidence indicates that inoculation procedures may represent a viable and effective strategy for employment in education settings, by way of prevention programmes. For instance, a smoking or alcohol prevention programme may utilise inoculation principles such as role plays of ways to refuse a cigarette or alcohol. The school prevention programmes may promote inoculation against peer pressure as it provides the person with a safe place for pre-exposure to a weakened persuasive attempt, and moreover, to establish rational refutations, in preparation for a potential encounter with a pro-smoking or pro-alcohol persuasive attack by ones peers (Bruvold, 1993; McGuire, 1961a).

The merits of applying inoculation in this instance extend further, as a consequence of evidence which identified that inoculation enhances resistance to persuasive attacks independent of whether the argument is the same or different to that presented at inoculation (McGuire & Papageorgis, 1962; Pfau et al., 1990). It follows that, a school prevention programme may confer a generalised inoculation effect on ones attitudes towards smoking or alcohol consumption. This is vital as it is highly unlikely that a prevention programme may ever be able to isolate the specific counter-attitudinal arguments which one is likely to be exposed to in a peer pressure situation, due to the complex and diverse nature of arguments which are perpetuated in any social situation (Visser & Mirabile, 2004). This saliently demonstrates the merits of applying inoculation to the prevention of potential peer induced persuasion to engage in negatively consequential behaviours.

In considering applicability, however, it is imperative to consider the ecological validity of research findings for the effects of both forewarning and inoculation. Evidence suggests that controlled experimental settings yield pronounced persuasive resistance whereas, field studies which are more naturalistic in nature, tend to yield relatively trivial persuasive resistance (Hovland, 1959). This suggests that attempts to apply or replicating findings from forewarning and inoculation studies to real world situations, may observe effects of persuasive resistance in attenuated form to that observed in the lab setting, as the person concerned often has more control over the extent of exposure to a persuasive attack (Compton & Pfau, 2008). Nonetheless, the aforementioned evidence clearly demonstrates the merits for applying forewarning and inoculation to everyday life and in congruence with aforementioned evidence, one may reason that inoculation may represent a more effective strategy in conferring resistance to persuasion than that of forewarning (Compton & Pfau, 2008).

The present essay has demonstrated that forewarning and inoculation perform pivotal roles in the process of resistance to persuasion (McGuire, 1961a). The core tenets of forewarning, inoculation and its theoretical basis were outlined and evaluated utilising existing evidence. It was proposed that whilst inoculation theory provides a valuable contribution to understanding the processes which underlie resistance to persuasion (McGuire & Papageorgis, 1962; Pfau et al., 1990), recent evidence suggests that it may benefit from modifications in order to explicate findings which have transpired, particularly in relation to the importance of the attitude-object (Pfau, 1992), the attitude itself (Kamins & Assael, 1987), the role of the attitude-base (Ivanov et al., 2009) and the impact of the social context of inoculation (Visser & Mirabile, 2004). By incorporating extensive evidence and numerous examples, the value of applying forewarning and inoculation to everyday life was saliently demonstrated and indicates the considerable scope which the two concepts harbour for understanding and inducing resistance to persuasion (Compton & Pfau, 2004; Wood & Quinn, 2003). The present essay thus proposes that whilst the influence of forewarning and inoculation upon resistance is salient in empirical and applied terms, the process of persuasion resistance by inoculation may represent a more complex process than theoretically outlined, with multiple factors needing to be accounted for (Pfau et al., 1997).

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