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Social judgment theory

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Social judgment theory (SJT) is a persuasion theory proposed by Carolyn Sherif, Muzafer Sherif, and Carl Hovland.[1] According to Sherif and Sherif, Social Judgment Theory is the perception and evaluation of an idea by comparing it with current attitudes. We do this theory in our heads by weighing every new idea by comparing it with our present point of view. Basically, we hear a message and immediately judge where it should be placed on the attitude scale [2] in our own minds. SJT is the subconscious sorting out of ideas that occurs at the instant of perception.


Social Judgment Theory arose from Egon Brunswik’s Probabilistic Functionalist psychology and his Lens Model which are socio-psychological theories.[3] It also comes from Judgment Theory. SJT is a theory that focuses on the internal processes of an individual's judgment with relation to a communicated message. SJT was intended to be an explanatory method designed to detail when persuasive messages are most likely to succeed. Attitude change is the fundamental objective of persuasive communication. SJT seeks to specify the conditions under which this change takes place and predict the direction and extent of the attitude change. SJT attempts to explain how likely a person might be to change their opinion, the probable direction of that change, their tolerance toward the opinion of others, and their level of commitment to their position.[4] The SJT researchers claimed expectations regarding attitude change could be based on the message receiver's level of involvement, the structure of the stimulus (and how many alternatives it allows), and the value (credibility) of the source.

Development of SJTEdit

SJT arose from social psychology and was based on laboratory findings resulting from experiments. These experiments studied the mental assessment of physical objects, referred to at the time as psychophysical research. Subjects were asked to compare some aspect of an object, such as weight or color, to another, differing object. The researchers discovered that when a standard was provided for comparison, the participants categorized the objects relative to the aspects of the standard. For example, if a very heavy object was used as the standard in assessing weight, then the other objects would be judged to be relatively lighter than if a very light object was used as the standard. The standard is referred to as an "anchor". This work involving physical objects was applied to psychosocial work, in which a participant's limits of acceptability on social issues are studied.[5][6] Social issues include areas such as religion and politics.

Judgment process and attitudesEdit

Rooted in judgment theory, which is concerned with the discrimination and categorization of stimuli, it attempts to explain how attitudes are expressed, judged, and modified.[7] A judgment occurs when a person compares at least two stimuli and makes a choice about them. With regard to social stimuli specifically, judgment processes incorporate both past experiences and present circumstances.[8] Sherif et al. (1965) defined attitudes as "the stands the individual upholds and cherishes about objects, issues, persons, groups, or institutions" (p. 4).[6] Researchers must infer attitudes from behavior. The behavior can be in response to arranged or naturally-occurring stimuli.[5][9] True attitudes are fundamental to self-identity, are complex, and thus can be difficult to change. One of the ways in which the SJT developers observed attitudes was through the Own Categories Questionnaire. This method requires research participants to place statements into piles of most acceptable, most offensive, neutral, and so on, in order for researchers to infer their attitudes. This categorization, an observable judgment process, was seen by Sherif and Hovland (1961) as a major component of attitude formation.[5] As a judgment process, categorization and attitude formation are a product of recurring instances so that past experiences influence decisions regarding aspects of the current situation. Therefore, attitudes are acquired.[6]

Latitudes of rejection, acceptance, and noncommitmentEdit

Social Judgment Theory also illustrates how people compare their personal positions on issues to other people’s positions. Individuals hold both a personal position on an issue and latitudes of what they think is acceptable or unacceptable in general for other people.[4] Social attitudes are not cumulative, especially regarding issues where the attitude is extreme.[6] This means a person may not agree with less extreme stands relative to his/her position, even though they may be in the same direction. Furthermore, even though two people may seem to hold identical attitudes, their "most preferred" and "least preferred" alternatives may differ. Thus, a person's full attitude can only be understood in terms of what other positions he/she finds acceptable (or not) in addition to his/her own stand.[9] Sherif saw an attitude as amalgam of three zones or latitudes. There is the latitude of acceptance which is the range of ideas that a person sees as a reasonable or worthy of consideration, the latitude of rejection, which is the range of ideas that a person sees as unreasonable or objectionable, and finally the Latitude of noncomitment which is the range of ideas that a person sees as neither acceptable nor questionable.[10]

These degrees or latitudes together create the full spectrum of an individual's attitude. Sherif and Hovland (1961) define the latitude of acceptance "as the range of positions on an issue ... an individual considers acceptable to him (including the one 'most acceptable' to him)" (p. 129). On the opposite of the continuum lies the latitude of rejection. This is defined as including the "positions he finds objectionable (including the one 'most objectionable" to him)".[5] This latitude of rejection was deemed essential by the SJT developers in determining an individual's level of involvement and thus his/her propensity to an attitude change. The greater the rejection latitude, the more involved the individual is in the issue and thus is harder to persuade. In the middle of these opposites lies the latitude of noncommitment, a range of viewpoints where one feels primarily indifferent. Sherif claimed that the greater the discrepancy, the more hearers will adjust their attitudes. Thus, the message that persuades the most is the one that is most discrepant from the listener’s position yet falls within his or her latitude of acceptance or latitude of noncommitment.[10]

These degrees of latitude together are very useful when your goal is to persuade someone. If you can judge their latitude of acceptance, rejection, noncommittment or anchor you can better craft your message to move their opinion along the line closer to your goal.

Assimilation and contrastEdit

Sometimes people perceive a message that falls within their latitude of rejection as farther from their anchor than they really are. This is called Contrast. The opposite of Contrast is Assimilation, and that is a perceptual error whereby people judge messages that fall within their latitude of acceptance as less discrepant from their anchor than they really are.[10] These latitudes dictate the likelihood of assimilation and contrast. When a discrepant viewpoint is expressed in a communication message within the person's latitude of acceptance, the message is more likely to be assimilated or viewed as being closer to person's anchor, or own viewpoint, than it actually is. When the message is perceived as being very different from one's anchor and thus falling within the latitude of rejection, persuasion is unlikely due to a contrast effect. The contrast effect is what happens when the message is viewed as being further away than it actually is from the anchor. Messages falling within the latitude of noncommitment, however, are the ones most likely to achieve the desired attitude change. Therefore, the more extreme stand individual has, the greater his/her latitude of rejection and thus the harder he/she is to persuade.[citation needed]

Ego involvementEdit

It was speculated by the SJT researchers that extreme stands, and thus wide latitudes of rejection, were a result of high ego-involvement.[11] Ego involvement is the importance or centrality of an issue to a person’s life, often demonstrated by membership in a group with a known stand. According to the 1961 Sherif and Hovland work, the level of ego-involvement depends upon whether the issue "arouses an intense attitude or, rather, whether the individual can regard the issue with some detachment as primarily a 'factual' matter" (p. 191). Religion, politics, and family are examples of issues that typically result in highly involved attitudes; they contribute to one's self-identity.[6]

The concept of involvement is the crux of SJT. In short, Sherif et al. (1965) speculated that individuals who are highly involved in an issue are more likely to evaluate all possible positions, therefore resulting in an extremely limited or nonexistent latitude of noncommitment. People who have a deep concern or have extreme opinions on either side of the argument always care deeply and have a large latitude of rejection because they already have their strong opinion formed and usually aren't willing to change that. High involvement also means that individuals will have a more restricted latitude of acceptance. According to SJT, messages falling within the latitude of rejection are unlikely to successfully persuade. Therefore, highly involved individuals will be harder to persuade per SJT. In opposition, individuals who have less care in the issue, or have a smaller ego involvement, are likely to have a large latitude of acceptance. Because they are less educated and do not care as much about the issue, they are more likely to accept more ideas or opinions about an issue easily. This individual will also have a large latitude of noncommitment because again, if they do not care as much about the topic, they are not going to commit to certain ideas whether they are on the latitude of rejection or acceptance. Lastly, an individual who does not have much ego involvement in an issue will have a small latitude of rejection because they are very open to this new issue and do have opinions previously formed about it.[5][6]

Attitude changeEdit

Template:Copy edit To change an attitude, the first step is to judge how close or far away one's position is. The next step is to shift one's position in response to the argument made. We adjust an attitude once we have judged a new position to be in our latitude of acceptance. If we judge that message to be in our latitude of rejection, we will also adjust our attitude, but in the opposite direction from what we think the speaker is advocating.[12] Sometimes an attitude change may be incidental. In the boomerang effect, an attitude changes in the opposite direction from what the message advocates - the listener is driven away from rather than drawn to an idea. A major implication of social judgment theory is that persuasion is difficult to accomplish. Successful persuasive messages are those that are targeted to the receiver’s latitude of acceptance and discrepant from the anchor position, so that the incoming information cannot be assimilated or contrasted. The receiver’s ego-involvement must also be taken into consideration. This suggests that even successful attempts at persuasion will yield only small changes in attitude.[7]

See alsoEdit


  1. Hovland, Carl I.; Sherif, Muzafer (1980). Social judgment: Assimilation and contrast effects in communication and attitude change, Westport: Greenwood.
  2. Griffin, Em (2012). A First Look at Communication Theory, 195, New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
  3. , Michael E. Doherty and Elke M. Kurz (1996 July). {{{title}}}. Thinking and Reasoning: 109–140.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Mallard, Jessica (October 2010). {{{title}}}. Communication Teacher 24 (4): 197–202.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 Hovland, Carl I.; Sherif, Muzafer (1980). Social judgment, Reprint from 1961, Westport: Greenwood.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 Sherif, C.W.; Sherif, M.S.; Nebergall, R.E. (1965). Attitude and attitude change, Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders Company.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Darity, William (2008). Social Judgment Theory, 601–602, Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA.
  8. Sherif, CW (August 1963). Social categorization as a function of latitude of acceptance and series range.. Journal of abnormal and social psychology 67: 148–56.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Nebergall, R.E (1966). The social judgment-involvement approach to attitue and attitude change. Western Speech: 209–215.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Griffin, Em (2011). A First Look at Communication Theory, 194–204, New York, New York: McGraw Hill.
  11. Sherif, Carolyn W.; Sherif, Muzafer (1976). "Attitude as the individuals' own categories: The social judgment-involvement approach to attitude and attitude change" Attitude, ego-involvement, and change, Reprint [der Ausg.] New York 1967., Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press.
  12. Griffin, Em (2009). A first look at communication theory, 7th ed., 187, Boston: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.


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