Anticipatory socialization

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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.[1][2] 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.[3]

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.[4]

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.[5]

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.[6]

Recent studies show that anticipatory socialization is prevalent among pregnant mothers who choose to reveal the fetal sex pre-birth. Knowing the gender of the baby will affect the way in with the mother interacts with the baby, as a result of preconceived expectations of gender group norms.[7]


  1. ^ Clark, Reginald M. (1983). Family Life and School Achievement: Why Poor Black Children Succeed Or Fail. Chicago0: University of Chicago Press. p. 217. ISBN 0-226-10770-1. 
  2. ^ Wilcoxson, Mitsue Alice (2008). The socialization of athletic training clinical instructors: A descriptive study. Ann Arbor, Michigan: Purdue University Health and Kinesiology. p. 20. 
  3. ^ Ballis, Peter Harry (1999). Leaving the adventist ministry: a study of the process of exiting. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger Publishers. p. 158. ISBN 0-275-96229-6. 
  4. ^ Lane, Shannon Rae (2008). 'Electing the right people': A survey of elected social workers and candidates. University of Connecticut. p. 35. 
  5. ^ Holden, Matthew (1994). The challenge to racial stratification. New Jersey: The National Political Science Review Volume 4, A publication of the national conference of black political scientists (Transaction Publishers). p. 114. ISBN 1-56000-676-5. 
  6. ^ Shepherd, Gordon; Shepherd, Gary (2001) [1994]. "Sustaining a lay religion in modern society: the Mormon missionary experience". In Cornwall, Marie; Heaton, Tim B.; Young, Lawrence A. Contemporary Mormonism: Social Science Perspectives. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. p. 169. ISBN 0-252-06959-5. OCLC 28721262. 
  7. ^ Barnes, Medora (2014). "Anticipatory Socialization of Pregnant Women: Learning Fetal Sex and Gendered Interactions". Sociological Perspectives.