Original Research

Inoculation theory in the post‐truth era: Extant findings and new frontiers for contested science, misinformation, and conspiracy theories

March 30, 2021

Although there has been unprecedented attention to inoculation theory in recent years, the potential of this research has yet to be reached. Inoculation theory explains how immunity to counter‐attitudinal messages is conferred by preemptively exposing people to weakened doses of challenging information. The theory has been applied in a number of contexts (e.g., politics, health) in its 50+ year history. Importantly, one of the newest contexts for inoculation theory is work in the area of contested science, misinformation and conspiracy theories. Recent research has revealed that when a desirable position on a scientific issue (e.g., climate change) exists, conventional preemptive (prophylactic) inoculation can help to protect it from misinformation, and that even when people have undesirable positions, “therapeutic” inoculation messages can have positive effects. The authors call for further research to explain and predict the efficacy of inoculation theory in this new context to help inform better public understandings of issues such as climate change, genetically modified organisms, vaccine hesitancy and other contested science beliefs such as conspiracy theories about COVID‐19.