Anticipatory socialization is a phenomenon studied in sociology in which individuals seek information about or practice behaviors appropriate to social groups or organizations that they intend to join. An individual who researches and mentally rehearses for the work conditions of a new job, for instance, engages in anticipatory socialization. It is not uncommon for people to do this whenever they expect to find themselves in a new social situation as well. In some cases, it merely involves mental rehearsal and planning how to best handle the new situation. In other cases, it actually involves a preemptive change in behavior in order to develop and practice social attitudes appropriate to the new situation.
People sometimes use anticipatory socialization as a tool to evaluate whether or not they will be suited to a new social situation. A couple may choose to live together before marriage, for instance, to see if their compatibility extends into day-to-day domestic life. If one is unable to adjust one's social behavior or lifestyle to the new behavior, he may choose to avoid entering the new situation at all. On the other hand, anticipatory socialization can allow individuals to adjust to new social situations that would make them extremely uncomfortable without such preparation.
Anticipatory socialization is often studied in relation to preparing for new jobs and seeking advancement in professional life. A college student, for instance, often engages in this type of socialization when transferring from the often-informal life of a student to a new professional existence. This might involve dressing or acting in a highly professional manner even before finding employment. Also, some employees seeking better jobs choose to dress and act as though they already hold such positions. This serves both to prepare them for the elevated positions and to communicate to others that they are socially and professionally compatible with their desired jobs.
It is not uncommon for people to engage in anticipatory socialization in their day-to-day social existence. Meeting with one's close friends may not necessitate any particular thought or rehearsal, but the expectation of meeting new people often results in this type of socialization. One may, for instance, rehearse conversation topics and behaviors before meeting a spouse's parents or other people distant from one's normal social group. In many such cases, one's mental rehearsal is not even strictly deliberate. It arises, rather, from fears and concerns about the future interaction and serves to prepare one for the various uncertainties of the actual social interaction.