Evaluating Persuasive Communication using Social Judgement Theory essay

In persuasive communication, different groups and entities tend to think differently about various issues. For instance, people take different possible stands on the issue of abortion globally; while some people argue that abortion should be legalized, others argue that it should remain illegal but only be permissible for certain specified reasons. Others still believe that abortion should not be permitted regardless of the circumstances. In this case, people tend to have differing assessments and reactions to issues. While some find certain views acceptable, others consider such positions unacceptable based on what they believe in.

There are different theories that explain the variety of perspectives and attitudes in persuasive communication, including consistency theories, social judgement theories, functional theories, and learning theories. This essay uses social judgement theory to evaluate persuasion in a scenario where different groups have conflicting viewpoints. In the view of social judgement theory, the discussion opines that a person’s reaction to a persuasive communication depends on his or her judgement of the position that is advocated by the message. The essay suggests the significance of assessing people’s judgement of different positions taken. Before evaluating various persuasive positions in the given case, the next section presents a discussion on social judgement theory for enhanced comprehension.

Description of Theory

Social judgement theory, a framework by Sherif explores human judgement. The meta-theory concerns explores cognitive views and the ways how humans perceive different situations. Employing probabilistic psychology, Sherif et al. argued that peoples’ minds (psychjology) tuned to a number of factors that influence their environment. Cognitive and motivational capacities that an individual possesses are central to their ways of persuasion and social judgements. The psychological principle that is central to social judgement theory is the relations between stimulus and one’s judgmental anchors (Mallard, 2010). For instance, when stimulus is loosely related to the latter, then the effect of contrast can be seen. On the contrary, if stimulus is closely related to message, then it is easily assimilated. The social judgement theory largely focuses on an individual’s judgement in relation to communicated messages. In brief, the theory represents an attempt to generalize human psychological judgements.

The main tenets or variables of social judgement theory are: judgement processes and attitudes; acceptance, rejection and non-commitment; contrast and assimilation; attitude change; and ego-involvement. With regard to judgement attitudes and judgement process, social judgement theory explains expression, judgement, and modification of attitudes. Judgement happens when a receiver of communication compares two or more messages and makes choice about these communication; such a judgement process entails both the present and past experiences of a person. According to Sherif attitudes are the ‘stands that a person upholds about an object, persons, issues, institutions, or groups’. In the example of relationship of the constructs, attitude formation as a judgement process is the result repetition of past experiences, which influence decisions that an individual makes in relation to current situation. 

Acceptance, rejection, and non-commitment are the other tenets of social judgement theory. In addition to having personal opinion, different people tend to have different latitudes of whether the ideas they believe in are acceptable or unacceptable in the view of others. Acceptance includes the range of ideas that a receiver of given information considers to be worthy listening to or reasonable. In most cases, a receiver agrees to such messages after consideration. Latitude of rejection includes ideas that one consider objectionable and unreasonable. Messages that fall within the latitude of rejection are less likely to be considered for assimilation by a receiver as they are rejected before any consideration at all. The latitude of non-commitment entails the range of ideas that a receiver of the message considers it to be neither questionable nor acceptable. Therefore, the receiver is non-committal to either of the extreme ends. Consequently, an individual’s attitude can be understood with regard to the positions he or she finds acceptable or unacceptable and his or her own stand. 

In assimilation and contrast tenets, it is important to understand that people can either contrast or assimilate messages that they receive. Communication that falls within an individual’s acceptance is easily assimilated, while communication that falls within rejection is likely to be contrasted in order to understand how it relates to the anchor. However, the messages that receiver considers to be within latitude of commitment may achieve attitude change from an individual. Concisely, more extreme individuals tend to have greater latitudes of rejection, making it harder to persuade them in a communication process.

Ego involvement as a construct of the theory explains why rejections happen among people with extreme stands. As Sherif et al. explain, an individual’s ego involvement is based on whether the problem at hand arouses certain attitudes, or whether an individual is capable or regarding the issue at hand as a factual one. Consequently, the theory suggests that persons who are deeply involved in a particular issue tend to evaluate different positions and views, and the result is neither acceptance nor rejection and non-existent latitude of non-commitment. 

Ego involvement study conducted by Baiocchi explored the impacts of message persuasiveness in generational perspective. While presenting the study findings, Baiocchi proposed the need for considering certain generational traits while developing persuasive messages for different generational groups. The research findings suggested that generations form unique values based on their experiences and the environmental influence; and they tend to have a particular ego involvement towards certain issues as a result. For instance, younger generations can have high ego involvement with regard to persuasion about the choice of TV programs, resulting in rejection of the same. In brief, the researcher used social judgement theory to contend that generational perspectives are valuable for creating persuasive message for different generational groups. 


In evaluating the presented scenario, this discussion adopts psychological perspective. Such perspective entails synthesis of behavioral and cognitive psychology theories. In psychological perspective, three strategies are employed: adoption of attitude change being the most interesting independent variables, communication modelling or persuasion as a case of behavioral learning theory, and reliance on social psychology for methodological strategies. As highlighted, social judgement theory perspective suggests that change in individuals (or systems) is mediated by judgmental processes, effects, and, notably, the environment. The theory specifically advances the idea that the influence of persuasive communication is subject to the manner in which the receiver evaluates the advocated position. As a result, in social judgement theory, persuasion is regarded as a two-stage process in which the receiver first evaluates the position provided by the message before the attitude change occurs and is, as such, influenced by the interaction process. The change amount and direction depend on the judgement made by the receiver. Next, as the receiver of the position continues to assess the communication variations, persuasive effects start to occur within the person, signaling the interaction process that has to occur before one makes decision sometimes through individual contrast and sometimes through past experiences. 

The conceivability of the social judgement approach should be apparent in contradictory issues. In most cases, it is likely that people’s reactions to persuasive communication depend (at least to a significant extent) on what they think, or how favorable they are with regard to the point of view that is being advocated. Thus, the social judgement theory approach suggests that understanding of the receivers’ reaction to a position being advocated requires comprehension of how the receivers assess the varying positions that the message tends to advocate, with judgements depending on environmental influences or past experiences. 

From psychological perspective, the position taken by an individual on an issue in social judgement theory should be seen as involving more than the person’s perceived preferred position. Understanding of a person’s reaction to persuasive message in social judgement approach requires an attempt to comprehend and link a person’s judgement of different positions presented and his or her attitude of non-commitment, rejection, or acceptance. In this sense, social judgement theory suggests a systematic source of variation in the judgement latitude structures. With the receiver’s level of ego-involvement in a varying issue, the structure of the judgmental latitudes also varies.


Survey is the most preferred evaluation standard for social judgement theory application in this discussion. The decision to use survey as the preferred standard of evaluation is based on its strength in determining how an individual feels, thinks, or behaves, hence effectively capturing people’s perspectives of an issue. In the current scenario, the intention of the study is to evaluate the way how the public thinks about the issue of abortion and the stands taken by different candidates on the issue. Usually, a survey study can entail either interview approach, questionnaire approach, or both. In an interview approach, the participants are asked to respond orally to the issue; this might be conducted face-to-face or via virtual methods. In questionnaire, the participants should respond to the questions about the issue in written form. 

The use of survey to evaluate social judgement theory is likely to present the theory as strong. Using open-ended interviews, for instance, the participants are able to discuss all they feel about the issue, and expose whether they accept or reject the theory. The use of interviews easily exposes participant’s orientation with regard to issues and, therefore, enforces psychological perspective of the theory. The fact that the majority of the participants in a survey are able to relate their view of an issue to either their environment or interactions with other members of the society in which they live suggests a psychological perspective of the issue.

The fact that surveys target particular samples makes them more probable for evaluation of the social judgement theory. As suggested by Baiocchio, there is a need to adapt debate questions or surveys to particular generations in order to achieve the best outcomes of social judgement theory. Such survey methods as focus group interview make it easy to confine debates to the required targets while improving the validity of the results and eventually strengthening the theory outcomes. 

One of the most common examples and evidences of the use of survey in relation to social judgement theory is the campaign of combating drug use and extreme drinking among young people in colleges. The campaigns, which sometimes entail focus group interviews, are used as a means of communicating healthy behaviors and attitudes among the target groups. While the interviews are important for data gathering, they also act as a means of communication persuasion of the target groups. 

Practical Application

The communication scenario discussed here is the dilemma that Senator Bertrand Smith faced. He chaired the committee that oversaw questioning of the two judges recommended by the president for Supreme Court approvals. The two groups with opposing views that Senator Smith has to contend with are the No More Abortions (NMA) and We Are Pro-Choicers (WAPC). The NMA members believe that abortion should be illegal, while WAPC adepts believe that abortion should remain legal. Through the press conference, Senator Smith indicated that he was neutral about the issue and would not want to take any stand. 

Evaluating the scenario based on social judgment theory, Senator Smith is the receiver of communication, and the position he takes with regard to communication from the two groups is influenced by how far it is from his position. In the scenario, Senator Smith is faced with three latitudes: acceptance, rejection, and non-commitment. The NMA group persuaded him to accept their position, while WAPC expected Smith to accept their position as well. Applying the tenets of assimilation and contrast, the Senator perceived the message within his latitude of rejection as being far from his anchor of reality. In this case, persuasion from the two sides of the communication is unlikely to succeed in convincing Smith to accept the viewpoints due to its contrast effect. From each of the sides, the conclusion can be that Senator Smith took an extreme stand on the issue of abortion. Therefore, due to his attitude of rejecting either of the sides, it may be difficult for each of them to persuade the Senator.

However, he concealed an attempt of taking sides in order not to influence his committee members in making decisions. Such a failure to take a stand can also show the Senator as non-committal on the issue. In this case, Senator Smith falls within the category that achieves desired attitude change. Despite remaining neutral, it is likely that the Senator being non-committal might favor either of the sides in case of a tie in the voting given that both candidates have taken extreme positions on the issue.

With regard to the ego involvement construct, one group has high ego involvement, and another one has low ego involvement, while Senator Smith remains indecisive about the issue. Judge Pryor and the NMA members who opine that abortion is illegal tend to demonstrate high ego involvement into the issue. Therefore, they take strong position to reject abortion and cannot be persuaded otherwise about this issue. As a result, it may be difficult to persuade this group to accept abortion under any circumstances. The other group including Judge Caulfield and the WAPC members has smaller ego involvement into the issue of abortion, thus demonstrating large latitude in acceptance. According to social judgement theory, the persons who demonstrate non-commitment or do not care much about the issue may be easier to convince since they do not incline towards particular idea (Sherif et al., 1965). Senator Smith tends to have high latitude of non-commitment, which makes it easy for him to be convinced in order to accept the argument and endorse abortion. In brief, the Senator tends to demonstrate no previously formed opinion, implying that he is more open to the issue and has less ego involvement. 


The discussion in this essay and the presentation of the case scenario have demonstrated how social judgement theory draws one’s attention to significant facets of the persuasion process, importance of contrast and assimilation, and the relevance of evaluating opposing points of view about the issue of abortion. From the discussion, it is apparent that social judgement theory approach has a complete account of persuasive effect as it uses what a particular position advocates, and the clarity with which it identifies the position to discern a stand taken by an individual, an organization, or a system. Concisely, the mentioned case scenario highlights the consistency between attitude judgements and communication persuasion within the issue of abortion.

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Evaluating Persuasive Communication using Social Judgement Theory essay

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