Inoculation Theory

December 2020 No Comments

Authors | Editors: Cooley, S. (Oklahoma State University); Cooley, A. (Oklahoma State University); Hinck, R. (Monmouth College); Kitsch, S. (Monmouth College)

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Overview

This Quick Look specifically assesses and describes how one area of social scientific research, called Inoculation Theory, can be used to build individual resistance to attitude change, especially as it relates to force protection against misinformation, fake news, and conspiracy theories. An essential part of understanding how individuals are persuaded to change their attitudes involves understanding how they resist persuasion and attitude change (Banas & Rains, 2010). Inoculation Theory has continued to receive scholarly support and attention for the past two decades. As the name suggests, inoculation to persuasion operates in basically the same way as medical inoculation (Compton, 2013). When you get a flu shot, a weakened form of the virus is injected into you, enabling your body to build up resistance to future attacks from the virus (Banas & Rains, 2010). Similarly, Inoculation Theory maintains that when individuals are exposed to weakened versions of arguments against attitudes they currently hold, they are able to build up resistance and counterarguments to future threats to those attitudes.

Applications of Inoculation Theory have been made to health, politics, and commerce (Compton, 2013). We can also see, and recent research supports, how Inoculation Theory can be applied to help solve pressing twenty-first century issues related to information spread, propaganda, and source credibility. Recent studies, which will be explored in this report, focus on how we can potentially “vaccinate” citizens against misinformation, fake news, and conspiracy theories. This report begins with a summary of the original conceptualization of Inoculation Theory, followed by updates and advancements designed to address early conceptual and data limitations, and ends with a summary of current research, including practical applications (Banas & Miller, 2013).

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