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Social Judgment Theory
Muzafer Sherif

INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION: INFLUENCE


  1. Three latitudes: Acceptance, rejection, and noncommitment.
    1. Social judgment theory says that at the instant of perception, people compare messages to their present point of view.
    2. Individuals’ opinions are not adequately represented as a point along a continuum because degrees of tolerance around their positions must also be considered.
    3. Muzafer Sherif established three zones of attitudes.
      1. The latitude of acceptance represents ideas that are reasonable or worthy of consideration.
      2. The latitude of rejection includes items that are unreasonable or objectionable.
      3. The latitude of noncommitment represents ideas that are neither acceptable nor objectionable.
    4. A description of a person’s attitude structure must include the location and width of each interrelated latitude.
    5. In order to craft a more persuasive message, social judgment theory recommends that a communicator try to figure out the location and breadth of the other person’s three latitudes before further discussion.
  2. Ego-involvement: How much do you care?
    1. Ego-involvement refers to how central or important an issue is in our lives.
    2. The favored position anchors all other thoughts about the topic.
    3. People who hold extreme views care deeply.
  3. Judging the message: Contrast and assimilation errors.
    1. Social judgment-involvement describes the linkage between ego-involvement and perception.
    2. Contrast occurs when one perceives a message within the latitude of rejection as being more discrepant than it actually is from the anchor point. This perceptual distortion leads to polarization of ideas.
    3. Assimilation, the opposite of contrast, occurs when one perceives a message within the latitude of acceptance as being less discrepant than it actually is from the anchor point.
    4. Although Sherif is unclear as to how people judge messages that fall within the latitude of noncommitment, most interpreters believe the message will be perceived as intended.
  4. Discrepancy and attitude change.
    1. If individuals judge a new message to fall within their latitude of acceptance, they adjust their attitude to accommodate it.
      1. The persuasive effect will be positive but partial.
      2. The greater the discrepancy, the more individuals adjust their attitudes.
      3. The most persuasive message is the one that is most discrepant from the listener’s position, yet still falls within his or her latitude of acceptance or latitude of noncommitment.
    2. If individuals judge a new message to be within their latitude of rejection, they will adjust their attitude away from it.
      1. For individuals with high ego-involvement and broad latitudes of rejection, most messages that are aimed to persuade them that fall within a latitude of rejection have an effect opposite of what the communicator intended.
      2. This boomerang effect suggests that individuals are often driven, rather than drawn, to the positions they occupy.
    3. Sherif’s approach is quite automatic.
      1. He reduced interpersonal influence to the issue of the distance between the message and the hearer’s position.
      2. Volition exists only in choosing the message the persuader presents.
  5. Practical advice for the persuader.
    1. For maximum influence, select a message right on the edge of the audience’s latitude of acceptance or noncommitment.
    2. Ambiguous messages can sometimes serve better than clarity.
    3. Persuasion is a gradual process consisting of small movements.
    4. The most dramatic, widespread, and enduring attitude changes involve changes within reference groups where members have differing values.
  6. Attitudes on sleep, booze, and money: Evidence supporting SJT.
    1. Research on the predictions of social judgment theory requires highly ego-involved issues.
    2. A highly credible speaker can shrink the listener’s latitude of rejection.
    3. Application of the theory raises ethical problems.
  7. Ethical Reflections: Kant’s categorical imperative.
    1. Social judgment theory focuses on what is effective. But, before we adjust what we say so that it serves our ends and seems reasonable to others, we should consider what’s ethical.
    2. German philosopher Immanuel Kant believed that any time we speak or act, we have a moral obligation to be truthful.
    3. He held an absolutist position, based on his categorical imperative, which is “act only on that maxim which you can will to become a universal law.”
    4. There are no mitigating circumstances. Lying is wrong—always. So is breaking a promise.
    5. Kant would have us look at the difference between what we plan to say to influence others and what we truly believe.
    6. We should then ask, What if everybody did that all the time? If we don’t like the answer, we have a solemn duty not to do the deed.
    7. The categorical imperative is a method for determining right from wrong by thinking through the ethical valence of an act, regardless of motive.
  8. Critique: A theory well within the latitude of acceptance.
    1. The theory has practical utility for persuaders.
    2. The theory offers specific predictions and explanations about what happens in the mind when a message falls within someone’s latitude of acceptance or rejection.
    3. Like all cognitive explanations, social judgment theory assumes a mental structure and process that are beyond sensory observation.
    4. Although its falsifiable claims have not been widely tested, the empirical research has been conducting validates supports the SJT.
    5. Despite the small amount of research it’s fostered, social judgment theory is an elegant, intuitively appealing approach to persuasion.


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Resources
by Theory






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Instructors can get additional
resources. Read more

Archived chapters (PDF)
from previous editions
are available in
Resources by Type.
See list

New to Theory
Resources?

Find out more in this short
video overview (3:01).


Social Judgment Theory
Muzafer Sherif

INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION: INFLUENCE


  1. Three latitudes: Acceptance, rejection, and noncommitment.
    1. Social judgment theory says that at the instant of perception, people compare messages to their present point of view.
    2. Individuals’ opinions are not adequately represented as a point along a continuum because degrees of tolerance around their positions must also be considered.
    3. Muzafer Sherif established three zones of attitudes.
      1. The latitude of acceptance represents ideas that are reasonable or worthy of consideration.
      2. The latitude of rejection includes items that are unreasonable or objectionable.
      3. The latitude of noncommitment represents ideas that are neither acceptable nor objectionable.
    4. A description of a person’s attitude structure must include the location and width of each interrelated latitude.
    5. In order to craft a more persuasive message, social judgment theory recommends that a communicator try to figure out the location and breadth of the other person’s three latitudes before further discussion.
  2. Ego-involvement: How much do you care?
    1. Ego-involvement refers to how central or important an issue is in our lives.
    2. The favored position anchors all other thoughts about the topic.
    3. People who hold extreme views care deeply.
  3. Judging the message: Contrast and assimilation errors.
    1. Social judgment-involvement describes the linkage between ego-involvement and perception.
    2. Contrast occurs when one perceives a message within the latitude of rejection as being more discrepant than it actually is from the anchor point. This perceptual distortion leads to polarization of ideas.
    3. Assimilation, the opposite of contrast, occurs when one perceives a message within the latitude of acceptance as being less discrepant than it actually is from the anchor point.
    4. Although Sherif is unclear as to how people judge messages that fall within the latitude of noncommitment, most interpreters believe the message will be perceived as intended.
  4. Discrepancy and attitude change.
    1. If individuals judge a new message to fall within their latitude of acceptance, they adjust their attitude to accommodate it.
      1. The persuasive effect will be positive but partial.
      2. The greater the discrepancy, the more individuals adjust their attitudes.
      3. The most persuasive message is the one that is most discrepant from the listener’s position, yet still falls within his or her latitude of acceptance or latitude of noncommitment.
    2. If individuals judge a new message to be within their latitude of rejection, they will adjust their attitude away from it.
      1. For individuals with high ego-involvement and broad latitudes of rejection, most messages that are aimed to persuade them that fall within a latitude of rejection have an effect opposite of what the communicator intended.
      2. This boomerang effect suggests that individuals are often driven, rather than drawn, to the positions they occupy.
    3. Sherif’s approach is quite automatic.
      1. He reduced interpersonal influence to the issue of the distance between the message and the hearer’s position.
      2. Volition exists only in choosing the message the persuader presents.
  5. Practical advice for the persuader.
    1. For maximum influence, select a message right on the edge of the audience’s latitude of acceptance or noncommitment.
    2. Ambiguous messages can sometimes serve better than clarity.
    3. Persuasion is a gradual process consisting of small movements.
    4. The most dramatic, widespread, and enduring attitude changes involve changes within reference groups where members have differing values.
  6. Attitudes on sleep, booze, and money: Evidence supporting SJT.
    1. Research on the predictions of social judgment theory requires highly ego-involved issues.
    2. A highly credible speaker can shrink the listener’s latitude of rejection.
    3. Application of the theory raises ethical problems.
  7. Ethical Reflections: Kant’s categorical imperative.
    1. Social judgment theory focuses on what is effective. But, before we adjust what we say so that it serves our ends and seems reasonable to others, we should consider what’s ethical.
    2. German philosopher Immanuel Kant believed that any time we speak or act, we have a moral obligation to be truthful.
    3. He held an absolutist position, based on his categorical imperative, which is “act only on that maxim which you can will to become a universal law.”
    4. There are no mitigating circumstances. Lying is wrong—always. So is breaking a promise.
    5. Kant would have us look at the difference between what we plan to say to influence others and what we truly believe.
    6. We should then ask, What if everybody did that all the time? If we don’t like the answer, we have a solemn duty not to do the deed.
    7. The categorical imperative is a method for determining right from wrong by thinking through the ethical valence of an act, regardless of motive.
  8. Critique: A theory well within the latitude of acceptance.
    1. The theory has practical utility for persuaders.
    2. The theory offers specific predictions and explanations about what happens in the mind when a message falls within someone’s latitude of acceptance or rejection.
    3. Like all cognitive explanations, social judgment theory assumes a mental structure and process that are beyond sensory observation.
    4. Although its falsifiable claims have not been widely tested, the empirical research has been conducting validates supports the SJT.
    5. Despite the small amount of research it’s fostered, social judgment theory is an elegant, intuitively appealing approach to persuasion.


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