Anticipatory socialization is the process, facilitated by social interactions, in which non-group-members learn to take on the values and standards of groups that they aspire to join, so as to ease their entry into the group and help them interact competently once they have been accepted by it. It is the process of changing one's attitudes and behaviours, in preparation for a shift in one's role. Words commonly associated with anticipatory socialization include grooming, play-acting, training and rehearsing.
The concept of anticipatory socialization, first defined by sociologist Robert K. Merton, has its origins in a 1949 study of the United States military which found that privates who modelled their attitudes and behaviours on those of officers were more likely to be promoted than those who didn't.
When people are blocked from access to a group they might have wanted to join, they reject that group's values and norms, and instead begin the anticipatory socialization process with groups that are more receptive to them. People doing this, for example economically disadvantaged teenagers who aspire to become drug dealers rather than professionals, are sometimes criticized as lacking motivation, however sociologists say they are simply making a pragmatic adjustment to the opportunities available to them.
Examples of anticipatory socialization include law school students learning how to behave like lawyers, older people preparing for retirement and Mormon boys getting ready to become missionaries.
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