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Last updated February 14, 2001


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Inoculation Theory

Explanation of Theory:

Inoculation theory states that inoculation is used to describe the attribution of greater resistance to individuals.  Or, the process of supplying information to receivers before the communication process takes place in hopes that the information would make the receiver more resistant.

Theorist: William McGuire


Primary Article:

     McGuire, W. (1961). Resistance to persuasion conferred by active and passive prior refutation of the same and alternative counterarguments. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 63,  326-332.

Individual Interpretations:

My individual interpretation of Inoculation Theory is that the information supplied to the receivers before the communication takes place makes the receiver more resistant.  Inoculation can be described in a biological sense in that a less harmful disease often gives immunity to a more harmful disease.

Metatheoretical Assumptions:

Inoculation theory is scientific.  Epistemologically there is one truth in that supplying information to receivers before communication makes the receiver more resistant.  Ontologically this theory is deterministic in that an individuals behavior can be predicted.  Axiologically it is value-neutral, therefore objective and not biased. 


Inoculation theory has explanatory power in that it provides credible explanations for the concepts.  This theory has predictive power, and has relative simplicity.  Inoculation theory is testable and can therefore be proved false, and is internally consistent.  This theory generates new hypotheses, and organizes existing knowledge.

Ideas and Implications:

Inoculation theory says that the nature of the presentation of the message is important.  One method involves passive reading in which receivers read the defensive material.  Another method is to read the refutational material and underline the passages relating to the arguments presented in the defense.  Next, experimenters supply an outline where the defensive material is to be written out.  The last method is to write out the arguments without any help.


McGuire’s basic method included constructing a persuasive message attacking a cultural truism such as, “An apple a day, keeps the doctor away.”  This message would contain statements like “eating too many apples can cause digestive problems.” Prior to this message, material would be introduced that should strengthen the belief in the truism. 

Location in Eight (8) Primary Communication Theory Textbooks:

     Anderson, R., & Ross, V. (1998). Questions of communication: A practical introduction to theory (2nd ed.). New York: St. Martin's Press.  N/A

     Cragan, J. F., & Shields, D.C. (1998). Understanding communication theory: The communicative forces for human action. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon. N/A

     Griffin, E. (2000). A first look at communication theory (4th ed.). Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill. N/A

     Griffin, E. (1997). A first look at communication theory (3rd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill. N/A

      Infante, D. A., Rancer, A. S., & Womack, D. F. (1997). Building communication theory (3rd ed.). Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press. pp.178-179

      Littlejohn, S. W. (1999). Theories of human communication (6th ed). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. N/A

      West, R., & Turner, L. H. (2000). Introducing communication theory: Analysis and application. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield. N/A

       Wood, J. T. (1997). Communication theories in action: An introduction. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. N/A