April 21, 2020 in Sociology
Social Judgment Theory


According to Social judgment Theory, individuals making Judgment must have a well-structured attitude before developing up any persuasive message. From the perspective of the father of social judgment theory, a person would reject or accept a message depending on his/her cognitive map. The SJT continues to indicate that individuals will reject or accept a message depending on their involvement and latitude that fall within their acceptance. Central idea of SJT is that individual’s attitudes change through mediated judgmental processes subsequence that information that affects and persuade people.

Social judgment theory has influenced psychology of making judgments and decisions for the better part of the 20th century. This theory deals with communication and persuasion within social context and is applied in virtually everyday situations. Commercial business industry uses SJT to determine consumer perceptions of the products and services that are being introduced to the market.

In social policy development SJT has been used to persuade different groups of people to stand against abortion. For example, Howard Pryor and Susan Caulfield were appointed to Supreme Court because of their stand on the abortion issue. During their hearing process, these two judges took a stand on the issue of abortion and could persuade their congregational committee on the social issue of abortion. With this example, SJT was used to persuade the public of reasons why abortion should or should not be legalized. The purpose of this paper is to explore social judgment theory as it pertains to its applicability in everyday live. To achieve the objective of the paper we will use social policy creation on the issue of abortion and demonstrate how SJT was used to hire Howard and Susan as Supreme Court judges.

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Description of the Theory

Social judgment theory is attributed to messaging interpretation from an anthological perspective that individual behaviors can be predicted. From an epistemological perspective, SJT is considered a scientific theory that has one truth of how people receive messages. Some sociologists also indicate that SJT is value neutral and have a theoretical proposition that is objective and non-biased. Social psychological analysis of SJT showed that individuals judge a message according to how they perceive this message. They accept or reject a message according to their specific attitudes. Individuals assert the theory through reflection of their statements to those that other people make. These statements evoke different opinions. Theoretical propositions of the accepted message and the message which was rejected use the same process. Theoretical processing of messages and attitude towards a particular action is the same. Depending on the message and perceptions, social judgment theory generates a new hypothesis, expand knowledge, and has an organizing power to create messages that influence people.

SJT was simplified to the definition that it is a two-step process that involves individuals hearing and reading the message. In the first step, an individual reads the message and immediately try to evaluate where the message will fall regarding their positions on the underlying issues. The second step would involve a person’s perceiving the message as adjusting to a particular attitude towards the message they hear. The same individual can adjust their attitudes away from the message they hear.

Theorist Muzafer Sherif, Sherif Carolyn, and Horland Carl identified three zones in acceptance and rejection of a specific message and attitudes. The first zone is the common latitude of acceptance. In this zone, individuals place attitudes that they would consider acceptable. The second zone is considered as the latitude of rejection zone where a person places the attitude that they consider the objection. Zone three is the latitude of non-commitment, where people place attitudes that they find acceptable or unacceptable. The neutral zone as it is sometimes called is used in everyday life. For example in the Supreme Court Senator Smith did not have a stand on the issue of legalizing abortion. He had neutral views that did not reject or accept each of the newly hired Judges’ thinking and view against abortion or for abortion.

SJT theorists, therefore, created a theory that presented three aspects of persuasive messages. Also, the theorists intended to create a theory with the purpose of discovering the message argument that would have had the most profound effect on the receiver. In presenting arguments, ego-involvements are considered as anchoring points that are used to represent the positions that closely represent an individual’s point of view. The strength of STJ is that this theory was used to demonstrate how difficult people can be when dealing with social issues. For example, in a heated argument between a teacher and a parent of a student, a parent might fail to understand their involvement in assisting their child to perform better, claiming all student’s better performance in school depend on a teacher. In the argument a teacher is trying to persuade a parent to understand their duties in helping their children to perform better. But if a parent does not understand their roles, then the argument would show that there is a party which is difficult to deal with and that social judgment theory will be used to explain the stands between a parent and a teacher.

It is imperative to note the criticism of SJT. Critics indicate that this theory has a weakness of failing to take into account argument quality. The theory can support an argument which is not based on any evidence and reject a valid one which is based on research evidence. Therefore, SJT downplays source credibility that greatly influences attitude change. The critiques continue to show that it is not possible to determine whether a message fall within the latitude of rejection or acceptance. It is not possible to determine the strength of an argument even if this argument is bound to persuade the target audience.

On the other hand, SJT seem to have some conditions, which must be fulfilled. For example, for an individual to persuade their message receiver, they have to develop a cognitive map. On the same note, for a message receiver to be persuaded, they also have to develop a cognitive map. Without these conditions, SJT is not functioning because having incorrect cognitive map may not provide a message that can persuade the target audience. It is not possible to measure both the correct cognitive map and attitude structure. With no way of predicting or monitoring the trend of the persuasive message the process has a high probability of failing hence failing to return on investment. Nevertheless, the scientific nature of SJT process justifies persuading with a positive or negative result hence the validity of the SJT process.

An implication of social judgment theory is that it is skewed towards the latitude of acceptance and those in this latitude are trying to theoretically avoid the latitude of rejection. According to SJT, change will not occur with the latitude of rejection. At least, when receiver gets information, and they are in the in the rejection zone. When in this zone, they will seem to have stopped listening. If they have to respond, they will do it negatively, but in an argumentative way. Persuaders want listeners who accept their message as compared to those who are turned off or who feel angry with the message.

SJT motivates persuaders in the way that this theory allows change to happen in many, but small steps for a long period. SJT does not make it possible for persuaders to rely on simple short-term persuasive argument to change a course. Receivers of persuasive message cannot change in one massive message announcement, but change lengthy because they have to respond to their psychological stimuli.


Social judgment theory is a human judgment framework that directs cognitive perspective research. The socio-psychological perspective of social judgment focuses on how individuals perceive situations. Brunswick’s probabilistic functionalist psychology is used to explain the individual’s psychological processes that are adapted to the environmental functioning. According to the functionalist psychology, specifically cognitive and motivational processes are central to the model of social judgment theory and persuasion communication.

The perspective of psychology on SJT is the description of a psychological principle. The psychological principle demonstrates natural examples of human reaction to messages. Humans react to stimulus in such a way that when the stimulus is far away from a judgmental anchor contrasting with effects that are highly possible especially when the stimulus is too close to the anchor and simulation of assimilation effect. With these descriptions, a social judgment tries to generalize psychological judgment principles.

SJT is most often applicable with juries. When judges sit in court and are ready to deliver their judgments, they make decisions through social judgment theory, relying on their internal processes regarding the message the case communicated. Through SJT, the theorist tried to give an explanation: which social issue or argument is most likely to be accepted within a larger social context. If an argument is to be accepted as a persuasive message, it should change the attitude of the audience because its change is the main objective of any persuasive communication. Therefore, SJT aims at explaining the condition in which arguments can change the attitude of the intended audience.


SJT can be evaluated to determine its applicability in the context of social life. The Griffin’s five scientific standards will be used to establish whether SJT has a practical applicability in the present social world.

Explanation of the Data

The SJT qualifies in explaining its data. This theory categorizes group subjects’ responses into three, depending on the latitude of: non-commitment, acceptance, and rejection. Upon these three categories, a cognitive map is assembled that could represent an individual subject’s attitude. Structured without the Griffin’s first scientific standard, this theory could not be able to create an effective persuasive message. The strength of this scientific method is that it identifies the variables used in the research analysis. For example, any of the three latitudes would have a substantive number of subjects who are significant enough to draw conclusions upon in regard to their perceptions. On the other hand, the weakness of data explanation for this theory is that it only has qualitative data with no room for more variables. Therefore, it lacks variations suggesting it does not provide diversity and cannot accommodate new developments in this way of explaining persuasion messages.

Prediction of the Future Events

According to the second standard of scientific evaluation of social theories, a theory that is good has a capability of predicting what will happen. The purpose of predicting the future is to establish a cognitive map identifying a type of a message that will be persuasive. Griffin indicate that, if a person has a correct cognitive map of an individual, he/she can predict messages that will be persuasive. The benefit of predicting future events is that the theory gives hope to either of the groups with any latitude that their argument will convince and change the behaviors of another group. For example, lobbying groups focus on persuading legislative institutions to buy their idea and make a policy favoring them. Groups that support abortion legalization would lobby legislative institutions to create laws legalizing it. Those that do not support abortion legalization would also lobby legislative institutions to outlaw it. Using the prediction of future events in demonstrating how scientific the SJT is, any of the lobbying forces believes that a legislative institution will adopt its idea in the future and that is why the magnitude of persuasion in lobbying increases. The weakness of the prediction of future events in social judgment theory is that it is not possible to determine a group that will win because the final decision is determined by an institution not taking any stand. Also, future events might be affected by biases for those who will be making a judgment.

Relative Simplicity

According to Griffin, a well-applicable theory is not complex, it is simple. Therefore, SJT confirms this principle of simplicity. Elsewhere, this theory has been praised for its simplicity because it is composed of predictable and constant variables of latitudes, ego-involvement, anchoring point, contrast, and assimilation. The strength of this scientific variable is that its non-complexity would work with any argument in any industry, where message senders want to persuade message receivers. Therefore, social judgment theory is applicable in all fields. The weakness of this social judgment theory’s quality is that it might be difficult to use it in complicated situations such as changing economies. Other better theories come depending on societal changes and might render this theory not useful.

Hypothesis that Can Be Tested

Griffin and McClish assert that a good social theory must have a testable objective. For example, if a given theory makes a wrong prediction, there should be a way of demonstrating the error. Therefore, for SJT to qualify here, it has to show if a sender’s message was persuasive, changing the receiver’s attitude. To defend the hypothesis testing status for this theory, the theory measures current attitude and structure. The advantage of using a hypothesis that can be tested is it validates the issues being addressed. For instance, if the debate is about abortion and presents a testable hypothesis, the results of this debate are valid. The shortcoming of this, however, is the over-relying on qualitative information, which makes it difficult to use quantitative methods of testing a given hypothesis.

Practical Utility

According to Griffin and McClish, a social science theory should have useful applicability in the daily lives of the parties concerned. Objective theories aim to offer practical advice for the individuals facing issues in live. SJT qualifies for utility, because this theory was used at the time ofhiring two Supreme Court judges who made their acceptable stand on the issue of abortion. SJT is useful in social applications, especially when making policies that pertain to social life issues. The strength of demonstrating the practical utility is that SJT can be used to explain the success of any argument and the failure of such. Either of the groups will add value to their arguments, making it possible to persuade their target audience.

Practical Application

The social judgment theory identifies acceptance, rejection, and non-commitment of a range of ideas hence can be used in different fields for decision-making. The scope and usage of this theory should have a practical use in making decisions concerning issues of daily life. Also, this theory is relied upon to enhance persuasion especially when two groups focuses on an issue that affect daily lives. The example of the persuasion process is presented when No More Action (NMA) and We Are Pro-Choicers (WPCA) lobby Senator Smith to accept their position of the issue of abortion.

During the hiring process of two judges of the Supreme Court, Senator Bertrand Smith chaired the committee. He had a non-commitment stand on the issue of abortion and would be the best target audience for NMA and WPCA campaigners. On the other hand, both Howard Pryor and Susan Caulfield were required to persuade him to accept their stand on abortion. The two candidates had antagonistic stands on the issue of legalizing abortion. Judge Howard Pryor took a rejection stand on the matter during the hearing. Using social judgment theory, he said, “I believe that abortion is murder. I am opposed to abortion…”. On the other hand, Judge Susan Caulfield was asked the same question about abortion during the committee hearing. She took a non-rejection approach, , admitting, “I believe that the Supreme Court’s Wade vs. Roe decision legalizing abortion is constitutional.” Therefore, she took a position of accepting the law of legalizing abortion. The two judges and Senator Smith demonstrated the applicability of the variable of social judgment theory.

The social issue of abortion has three responses, whether inside or outside of the court. For example, people who are pro-life, such as the No More Abortion (NMA), would support Judge Pryor’s stand. These groups believe that abortion is unacceptable unless the conception occurred as a result of rape. On the other hand, the We Are Pro-Choicers (WAPC) accepts abortion legalization and supports the view of Judge Susan Caulfield. Additionally, Senator Smith has no commitment to either the acceptance or rejection of abortion legalization hence applied the theory in making selections for Supreme Court judge. Therefore, this everyday scenario used for appointing judges showcases the process of social judgment theory application.


The social judgment theory provides a range of possible positions about a given social issue with three distinct latitudes. People may have a number of opinions regarding an issue, and there is always a group that accepts, a group that rejects, and another one that is non-committed to a particular issue. Legalizing abortion has been used as a matter that demonstrates balance between the three variables of social judgment theory. Groups that propose abortion legalization are regarded as taking the position of acceptance, those that reject its legalization take the position of rejections, and there is always a group that is non-committed to either abortion legalization or outlawing. All these groups satisfy the functionality of SJT.

The purpose of SJT includes providing certain categories of judgment that evaluate a persuasive argument. According to this theory, as it pertains to persuasive communication, the receiver gets convincing information and continues to use categories of judgment to assess it. Receiving the information, accepting, rejecting or taking a non-commitment stand does not signify the end of the process of social judgment theory application. The level of ego-involvements affects the density of any of the latitudes an individual takes. Social judgment theory allows individuals to distort the incoming information to fit their category of judgment and argument. Distorting the incoming information focuses on trying to persuade a given group to change their opinion on a particular issue.

The social judgment theory is used every day in the court process. Apart from using this theory to understand approaches of Judge Howard Pryor and Judge Susan Caulfield, the legal justice system uses professional defense and prosecution arguments to persuade the judges to accept their internal and external beliefs regarding a given issue. For example, this theory can be used by the prosecution side to persuade the court to give capital punishment to a murder suspect. On the other hand, the defense team will use social judgment theory process to persuade the court of its client’s innocence, hence reducing a risk of getting potential or desired capital punishment. Important to note with the criticism of social judgment is that it is difficult to measure whether a persuasive message will change the latitude of the target audience. It is also difficult to determine whether the changed attitude is the right attitude because change is depended on an individual’s opinion.


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