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What Is Social Judgment Theory?

By Marty Paule
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Social judgment theory, sometimes referred to as SJT, addresses questions about how people's internal processes function in the face of persuasive messages intended to produce attitude changes. An outgrowth of social psychology, SJT was formulated after conducting tests using attitudinal questionnaires and drawing inferences from the test subjects' behaviors. In establishing social attitudes among studied populations, social judgment theory looks at the degree to which test subjects evidence acceptance, rejection, or non-commitment when presented with specific stimuli. SJT also looks at the degree of latitude in a subjects' existing viewpoints that can lead to acceptance or rejection of a persuasive communication. It has been found that there is a correlation between people's ego involvement in a given issue and their degree of latitude for acceptance or rejection of attitudes concerning that issue.

Beginning in the 1960s, social scientists and psychologists began seeking out a method for predicting how likely certain persuasive communications would be in altering peoples' attitudes. Social judgment theory was created as a means of doing this. Test participants were asked to compare the features of differing objects such as height, weight, and color. It was found that, when a standard for comparison was given, the subjects tended to use that standard to categorize the various objects.

Determining how people form judgments, especially in the realm of social stimuli, is a challenging field of study that social judgment theory is intended to facilitate. Judgments take place when a person presented with two or more stimuli formulates an opinion about them. Current circumstances as well as the subject's past experience help to shape the formation of attitudes. Since peoples' attitudes are closely connected with their self-identity, they are often based on a complex of factors and can be difficult to change through external stimuli. Having subjects categorize a group of statements into those that they agree or disagree with or are neutral about has helped social scientists to understand how attitudes are formed.

In applying social judgment theory, it has been found that social attitudes are often not based on the subject's cumulative experience, especially when the position is an extreme one. The individual's native attitude is considered an anchor point in establishing a continuum of acceptance versus rejection of a given position. The degree to which an individual is likely to accept or reject a position is known as their latitude of acceptance and latitude of rejection. Issues involving family, politics, and religion tend to have narrower latitudes of acceptance and rejection. The application of SJT in the realms of marketing and politics has become a significant way to shape the way products, services, political candidates, and social initiatives are presented to the public.

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Discussion Comments
By stoneMason — On Apr 28, 2014

@ZipLine-- I think all of this applies to individuals with very concrete, or black and white thinking. Although we all have an inclination to "judge," some people can actually consider different ideas without outright rejecting them.

By ZipLine — On Apr 27, 2014

@turquoise-- You're right about evaluation taking place subconsciously and very quickly. I think this needs to be emphasized because although we all decide how something should be perceived and categorized within seconds, we don't actually think about it.

Our mind is actually very clear about what is acceptable to it and what is not. That's why when people come across a piece of information that's very different from their worldview, the mind will immediately label that as inconceivable and will try to block it out. This is why it's so difficult to change people's mind about something.

By turquoise — On Apr 26, 2014

I don't think that social scientists could identify the number of factors that affect people's judgment.

I have read a few studies about this for class and people's thought processes are unbelievably complex and intricate. A lot of it takes place subconsciously. So when people are presented with information and asked to make a judgment about them, they could be considering many factors within a matter of seconds without actually thinking about it. Like the article said, a person's identity, background and worldview has a lot to do with the judgments they make. People form opinions based on these different factors.

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