In life, when people are exposed to situations, they tend to take varying positions depending on their changing attitude towards the issue. These positions range from one end to another either for or against while others are in between. The social judgment theory suggests that a person’s position on any particular issue depends on the current and preferred position of the individual, other alternatives present on the issue, and the level of ego-involvement. When these elements are factored in the decision making, they influence the individual’s acceptance, rejection, or taking a non-committal position on the issue.
For instance, when three people are selected at random and told that they will be given brand new cars for free, would they react the same way to the news? Certainly not, depending on the individual’s position. If one were very rich and had access to posh cars, he would not be impressed, and he would not value the gift as much, on the other hand, one of them could have a car that is breaking down, and the gift of a new car would be thrilling. The third person could be poor and owning a car not a priority. He could, therefore, be torn in between – may be thrilled with the gift of a new car but still worried about other expenses that he would have to meet in maintaining the car such as insurance; or excited for the gift, but uncertain about how much he would make if he chooses to sell the car.
The illustration indicates the different reactions that people might make in a similar situation. Hence, an individual’s persuasion is determined by the recognition of similarity or not of the issue at hand. An analysis of the message being portrayed to a person determines the response they choose to give. The paper seeks to describe the social judgment theory, identify and describe the theory’s perspective, evaluate its strengths and weaknesses, and show the applicability of the theory in the communication scenario.
Description of the theory
Sherif suggestion was that a person makes decisions based on their attitude to a particular issue. Social judgment theory explores the levels of the reaction of an individual to an issue and shows how it will contribute to their choice. The diversity of people’s opinion relies on three key categories namely: acceptance, rejection and non-commitment.
This perception is based on what one deems alright and has embraced based on their circumstance. Therefore, an individual’s view is based on their preference. About the car example, the choice of the car will be chosen depending on their current car.
In the Second argument, their state will depend on alternatives. Therefore, what is acceptable or non-committal does not apply. In the case of the car, the alternative is in rejecting the car. However, with a matter such as politics, the options are numerous.
Finally, the position of a person is anchored on ego-related thoughts. The individual is driven by reason, other than acceptance or rejection. Such an individual is likely to be open minded and pays attention before making a conclusion. Therefore, if a lady banker is offered a free car, her peers are likely to pay a fundamental role in her reaction. Will she be deemed cheap if one of them finds out the vehicle is a gift? What if the car does not meet her friends’ acceptance, will she be undermined for driving a conventional car as opposed to a luxurious one?
The choice is affected by a person’s feelings regarding an issue and their ego-involvement levels, and this is the basis of the relation of the three factors. From the perspective of Darity, the higher the degree of one’s ego-involvement in decision making, the less likelihood of acceptance. Moreover, the more essential an issue is, the probability of one taking up a similar idea is minimal unless it is based on the very ideology they possess. As such it will cause a negative feeling towards the known since much is already relevant and it does not challenge the individual.
Sherif compared the attitudes of democrats versus republicans and discovered that those political die-hards committed on both sides did not have room for new thoughts regarding political alignment. Rather, their ego was purposefully leading them to their belief and previous knowledge. On the other hand, the moderate believers with neither party affiliation are more likely to understand democracy than choose sides. As a matter of fact, the average listeners are grouped as non-committal since they neither agree nor reject without conviction.
The social theory was meant to give answers on discrepancy which is the existence of pre-judgment by an individual or group regarding a topic. Therefore, the theory is intended to help us undertake a conversation with less hindrance by personal feelings. For this to happen, moderation in delivering a message has to be applied to ensure persuasion is effected.
The social judgment theory has been illustrated as a self-persuasion theory as it evaluates and perceives an idea after drawing a comparison with the current attitudes. A person evaluates every new idea by comparing it to his or her present perspectives to conclude the position of the idea on the attitude scale on their mind. Attitude change is the significance of a persuasive message under which the attitude change occurs. It tries to give the probability of an individual’s opinion change, the direction of the modification, the extent of their commitment to their new positions and the extent to which they can tolerate other people’s opinion. The expectations of attitude change are dependent on the involvement level of the message received the number of alternatives it gives and the credibility it gives.
The social judgment theory compares the structures of message stimuli and helps to make a choice about them, after explaining how attitudes are expressed and judged. These attitudes are said to be the stands a person may uphold and honor about other people, issues or institutions from the argument in the works of Kruglanski, Van Lange & Paul. Therefore, attitudes are different from behavior since behavior are responses to natural or arranged stimuli. On the contrary, attitudes are complex components which are difficult to change and define self-identity.
According to Sherif, attitudes can be categorized as they range from most acceptable, neutral and most offensive and this forms the basis of a judgment process. Categorization, judgment, and attitude formation are products of recurring situations in that our experiences influence the decisions we make on current issues, thus attitude formation. The speaker can succeed to change the attitude of the message receiver by first understanding their attitude, and this forms the foundation of persuasion. The speaker, therefore, should first understand how far or near the receiver’s position is from the message idea. Second to persuasion is to change the individual’s position to be in line with the message argument. The message receiver only approves to adjust their position or attitude once they have accepted the new position to be in line with their attitude of acceptance. If the argument is perceived by an individual to be in line with their attitude of rejection, the attitude adjustments are made in the opposite direction contrary to the speaker’s advocacy.
In reference to Darity, Social environment can also influence attitude change as people tend to adjust their attitudes to be in line with the attitudes of those they consider significant. Social influence, therefore, affects the conformity and alignment of attitudes. Thus indicating how difficult it is to accomplish persuasion as a component of social judgment theory. Successful persuasion thus should target the receiver’s acceptance to the argument and not the anchor position.
In any communication, persuasion may be used and involves ways of processing stimuli and how they are used to affect change of attitude. The use of persuasion to influence attitude change may involve message elaboration to create a high level of arguments cognition by the message receiver. The effects of attitude change, in this case, are expected to be enduring, predictive and resistant. Persuasion may as well involve associating the person with the cues of the stimuli whether positive or negative or by deducing the advantages of the advocated stands.
The cues received are not related to the logic value of the stimuli, but depend on such factors as, how attractive or credible the message source is or either its production quality. This elaboration is dependent on the ability and motivation that the message receiver possesses in evaluating the position of interest. These persuasion routes are influenced by the individual’s desire for the message, that is, motivation and their critical evaluation for the message (ability). The level of motivation is influenced by the individual’s attitude and their relevance, while their elaboration ability is affected by their knowledge, distractions and the individual’s cognitive ability to engage in different tasks.
In developing a theory, it is significant to determine the level of its position, that is, whether weak or strong. A weak argument will result to inconsistencies in the persuasion and therefore will be viewed to give significant results. On the other hand, a strong argument compels the recipient to think about its message and generate a viable thought. The strengths and weaknesses of the test argument are therefore determined by its ease to understand its complexity and familiarity. This theory in comparison to other theories has many strengths; first, it draws the significance of perception in persuasion.
When two or more people receive a message, it obvious that the way they perceive a message is different. When this occurs, social judgment theory assists in explaining why and how it happens. Thus, the theory illustrates the role of perceptions of a particular message in influencing it stance and utilizes the latitudes of rejection, and the mechanisms of assimilation and contrast. Finally, the crucial role of persuasive messages in persuasion cannot be doubted, and social judgment theory utilizes its important concepts
The social judgment theory, on the other hand, has some weaknesses and limitations. To start with, the stand of a message is seen to be vulnerable to different interpretations. Thus, the theory seems to limit assimilation and contrast and their effects on the message. For example, the position taken by some messages are clear, and they limit the recipient‘s interpretation of their messages. Other messages are ambiguous and offer the audience more leeway or a bigger deal of interpreting them. A message that takes a clear position are therefore not subjects of displacements that is, assimilation and contrast. Social judgment theory also seems to ignore the content of the message. The theory does not consider the role of message variables such as argument quality and argument in persuasion. For instance, if a message contains strong arguments for the position it takes, it may not be rejected even if it falls on the recipient’s latitude of rejection.
It is obvious that a message that falls on the far end of the recipient’s latitude of rejection are far from his attitude and therefore would be rejected. However, a message that falls on other parts of the latitude of rejection could be persuasive depending on the strength of the message. Also, the theory overlooks the role of self-credibility and influences the change of attitude. The theory can also be questioned as it does not stipulate precisely when a message recipient judges the stands of a persuasive message. The theory assumes that the judgment of a message occurs before the change in attitude, can the process be reversed?.
For instance, a persuasive message may fall in the listener’s latitude of acceptance and can, therefore, be perceived to change a listener’s attitude. The listener would think of it as ‘that message was close to my attitude, ooh! It was persuasive’. However, a message that is not persuasive falls on the recipient’s latitude of rejection and is judged after it has failed to persuade the recipient that he thinks of the message as “that message was far from my attitudes, it was not persuasive”. Concerns have also been raised that latitudes are not topic specific but indicate an individual’s persuasibility level whereby an individual who is easy to persuade would have wider latitudes of acceptance while a person who is hard to convince would have a wide latitude of rejection. Other concerns that have also been raised is non-establishment on the menu of involvement. Does it illustrate the importance of a topic? Is it measured by the frequency of a listener encounter to the topic? For example, malaria is considered a severe disease while common cold is less severe but affects many people as compared to malaria. Which one is more involving?
Social judgment theory is very applicable in different fields, which mostly require decision making with uncertainty. The effectiveness of a communication tool should have an impact on our daily experiences and practical engagements. As demonstrated in the communication scenario surrounding the controversy of abortion involving Supreme Court judges appointments. The perception and attitude on a topic can be shaped through persuasive communication, as explained by the social judgment theory. In this scenario, there are opposing opinions and attitudes being held by the No More Abortions (NMA) and We Are Pro-Choicers (WPCA) lobby groups which involved Senator Smith’s position on the two candidates whose views on abortions were being challenged.
The basis of their judgments is ego-involvement which strengthen each groups anchor position on abortion. Both NMA and WPCA hold a narrow latitude of acceptance and an active involvement on the issue. The narrowness of NMAs and WPCAs latitude of acceptance towards the nominees who have contrary views from theirs is demonstrated. The grounds on which NMA oppose Caulfield and WPCA oppose Pryor is due to the nominees’ public position on abortion. Hence, the latitude of rejection for each lobby group widens. Due to this, any other significant judicial opinion that Caulfield and Pryor might have are treated as irrelevant to their suitability as Supreme Court judges due to the position. Senator Smith neutrality on the issue of abortion is not seen as genuine by both camps which reflect ego-involvement on their side.
Senator Smith’s neutrality opinion falls in the latitude of non-committal because he is torn between advocating for abortion and opposing it. This is because WPCA persuasions and defense for abortion as an inherent ethical right that women possess to determine what happens to their body seems to hold water. It does not appear to be far from his attitude and can neither fall on his latitude of rejection nor that of acceptance. On the other hand, NMA persuasion and anti-abortion stands are also effective and strong. Its definition for abortion as immoral and murderers can neither fall in his latitude of acceptance nor rejection. Although none of the two groups is persuasive enough to win Senator Smith’s change of attitude, their arguments are strong.
Caulfield’s line of persuasion was strong in argument but had negative cues, while Pryor’s persuasion had weak arguments but positive cues. However, none of them was influential. As a result, Senator Smith lacked a personal relevance on the abortion issue. Due to this fact, Senator Smith failed to influence his committee members to support either side. Thus left the persuasion role on the Supreme Court appointees to convince the committee members on their positions who might find a personal relevance in it.
According to the theory, the recipients of a message have a difference in perception. Sometimes the perception that the listeners may have are erroneous. Moreover, different audience perceives a message differently. Although it might seem common sense, social judgment theory explains how and why this occurs. A message listener would judge a message argument position according to their attitude which acts as their anchor position. The closer the message position to the listener’s attitude, the easier for the message to be assimilated. While the further the message position from the audience attitude, the easier the likelihood of the message to be contrasted. The level of persuasion is determined once the listener judges the message position unless the message is perceived to fall in the listener’s latitude of rejection.