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A Specific Theory of Persuasion: Social Judgment Theory

Introduction

Choosing a specific theory of persuasion that would align with the selected persuasive appeal is necessary for contextualizing the appeal and determining its effects. It was chosen to focus on Social Judgment Theory, which implies that the position of an individual on a particular issue depends on the preferred perspective, personal judgment, and the involvement of private interests. Thus, predicting the persuasive effects of the theoretical appeal is possible through evaluating the provisions of the selected theory and the range of perspectives on a particular issue.

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The importance of the Social Judgment Theory within the current persuasive appeal is attributed to the extent to which the target audience agrees or disagrees with a particular statement based on an attitude. Therefore, the involvement of listeners or the general target audience is greatly important for determining the impact of a persuasive message. Depending on the position, the outcomes of the persuasion are expected to vary. To change the attitude, it is imperative to understand what the attitude is exactly. Then, it is possible to relate to the judgments of the target audience on the persuasive message to determine how close or far away the particular position is from the compelling appeal.

The individual from the target audience will, therefore, adjust his or her position to meet the latitude of acceptance, which is necessary for persuading a person to agree with a particular statement. In the case when a person judges a message from the latitude of rejection perspective, it is harder to ensure that the persuasive appeal has a positive influence on the one who is being persuaded. Thus, the Social Justice Theory will be used in the current theoretic exploration of the persuasive appeal as related to the use of ethos and logos as the components of a rhetorical approach (Higgins and Walker 196). The theory would allow the persuader to use logical reasoning and the appeal to authority to convince a listener to agree with a given statement.

Persuasive Appeal Exploration

The persuasive appeal selected for the current exploration is concerned with the use of ethos and logos within a rhetorical approach. Ethos and logos represent persuasive techniques that allow developing compelling arguments. Ethos is a persuasive technique appealing to the audience through highlighting credibility and invoking the superior character of the person making an argument. Furthermore, ethos can denote the values of a specific person, culture, or movement, and can, therefore, be applied in the context of the Social Judgment Theory, which shows the influence of personal attitudes toward a particular persuasive appeal.

Logos is a persuasive technique that appeals to the target audience by employing logic or reason, as well as logical proof, which is real and apparent. It aligns with a persuasive appeal because it uses reasoned discourse and logical arguments that would convey a particular point of view and win over the audience. In order to convince the audience to agree with a persuasive statement, logos would help the one making an argument craft a piece of rhetoric that would be instrumental in persuading the target audience. When applied together with the Social Judgment Theory, logos can be used as a reliable persuasive tool that would explain to the target audience why a specific argument should be accepted.

Aligning the Appeal with the Theory

Social Judgment Theory

The critical point concerned with the Social Judgment Theory (SJL) is that persuasion, or attitude change, is mediated with the help of judgmental processes and effects. Developed by Sherif et al., the theory explains that persuasion occurs through the evaluation and the perception of an idea by contrasting it to the existing attitudes (41). This means that persuasion occurs at the end of the process where an individual understands a particular message and compares the position being advocated to an individual’s position on that issue. The position of a person on a particular issue depends on the most preferred position (the anchor point), the individual’s judgment of different alternatives, as well as the extent to which the person’s ego is involved in the issue. Research conducted in the tradition of Social Judgment Theory determined the boundaries of the position of the receiver “relative to the bounds of possible alternatives defined by the extreme position on the issue” (Sherif et al. 3). The approach is chosen for the current study because it is expected to reveal the perspective on the way the receiver evaluates the position that is being put forth by a message (Atkin and Smith 152).

Persuasive principles embedded into SJT would explain how a particular appeal works due to the five fundamental principles. The first principle suggests that there are certain categories of judgment by which persuasive positions are being evaluated. For example, in the following appeal: of using logos and ethos as rhetorical approaches, there can be a range of positions that one will take in regard to this particular topic. For instance, one position may state that neither logos nor ethos could facilitate a practical rhetorical approach toward persuasion. Another position can state that both logos and ethos are imperative for ensuring a practical rhetorical approach. Another position may be that logos and pathos may present some importance for facilitating persuasive appeal. The range of positions would express a reasonable variation of pro- and anti- positions that an individual can take in regards to the topic. According to the model of SJT, each position can be categorized into three zones. The first zone is the latitude of acceptance, which represents the area of positions that are being accepted. The second is the latitude of non-commitment, which represents the range of positions that are neither accepted nor rejected. The third is the latitude of rejection, which represents the range of positions that are being rejected.

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Within the latitude of acceptance, it is possible to have a perspective on all the positions on the particular appeal that are found acceptable. In the range of positions, there is an important point that is referred to as an anchor, which points to the most acceptable position, among others. It can take different forms, from the mildest to the most extreme position. At a border point, it is possible that a position is no longer accepted but is not rejected either. This is indicative of the latitude of non-commitment, containing things about which there is no distinct opinion. Positions that would indicate non-commitment are likely to include statements such as “difficult to say,” “uncertain,” “undetermined,” and others. It is possible that one surrounding statement may also be included in the latitude and represent simply the positions that are neutral to a person. Moving out from the latitude of non-commitment, it is possible to reach the second border represented by the latitude of rejection. Statements representing rejection include the positions on issues that are not being accepted.

The second principle suggests that when individuals receive persuasive information, they are likely to locate it in their own categories of judgment. The implications of the principle are direct, as judgment is a crucial component of persuasion. When persons are offered positions that they are likely to judge as those that should be rejected, it is unlikely that such positions would be persuasive. Therefore, the way in which information is being judged has a significant impact on whether or not a person will be influenced. This principle leads to an important implication. To be precise, when all things are being equal, it is easier to influence the opinions of those who hold more substantial latitudes of acceptance than larger attitudes of rejection.

The third principle is concerned with ego-involvement that has a significant influence on the size of latitudes. An ego-involving topic is the one that defines who people are and addresses critical aspects of themselves. As people become ego-involved in a specific issue, the latitude of rejection gets more significant while the latitudes of acceptance get less significance. Chances are because a certain topic is important to a person, people have already done a lot about supporting the correct position and building the self-concepts around a certain position. According to Social Judgment Theory, ego-involved individuals will think in regards to the sharply defined categories of judgment.

The fourth principle is associated with the tendency of people to distort incoming information to fit one’s own judgment categories. For example, the perceptions of “hot” and “cold” are comparative judgments that depend on the anchor position that a person holds on this issue. When a person has been sitting in one place, the body temperature will get lower, increasing the perception of a room being cold. The same person getting exercise or doing the housework would perceive the same room being warmer. By contrast, if incoming information that would be persuasive falls beyond the latitude of acceptance, then individuals would contrast the new position.

The fifth and final principle of SJT implies that small and moderate discrepancies that exist between anchor positions and the one which is being advocated would lead to a change, while substantial differences will not. The theory suggests that persuasion is a difficult process that cannot take place when new information falls in the rejection latitude. Moreover, if a person has ego-involvement in a particular issue, the latitude of rejection is more extensive, thus making persuasion more complex to achieve. Furthermore, people have the tendency to distort new information through assimilation and contrast, thus diluting the persuasive potential of further information. Therefore, there is not much room to be left for changing one’s perspective. In order for persuasion to take place, the new information should fall in the latitude of acceptance, it should be different from the anchor position, and it cannot be contrasted and assimilated when it is discrepant from the anchor. Therefore, any changes in perspective are more likely to be small and difficult to obtain.

The implications of Social Judgment Theory are vast in terms of its ability to explain persuasive techniques and predicting persuasive effects. First, it is essential to work in the latitude of acceptance and avoiding the latitude of rejection because change cannot occur in such a context. When new information is put in this zone, the receiver is likely to stop listening to it or respond in a negative or argumentative way. The last thing an effective persuader wants to do is to interact with a listener who is angry or unaccepting of the information that is being presented.

Second, an effective persuasive technique refers to expecting change to occur in small steps over a significant time period. Influence, therefore, is more likely to occur under three conditions. For instance, it is necessary to work within the latitude of acceptance and produce minimal differences between the anchor position and the new. It is also imperative to avoid assimilation and contrast effects. By following these guidelines, it is possible to reduce the influence of unfavorable conditions that could reduce the likelihood of a change to occur. Therefore, it is unwise to expect immediate change to take place in a short period of time.

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Third, in order for persuasive techniques to be effective, it is necessary to avoid ego-involvement as it leads to smaller latitudes of acceptance and large latitudes of rejection. Almost any information presented by a persuader can be rejected and distorted because of the significant involvement of the listener’s ego. Information that can be perceived as such that affect the ego of a listener should, therefore, be avoided because it would only serve as a limitation to a persuasive technique. Any comments that could be perceived as a potential attack on the ego of a listener should be eliminated because they can represent crossing an important line of no longer dealing with reasonable people.

When considering the Social Judgment Theory, it is essential to consider the ethical implications. The theory implies message discrepancy, which indicates the difference between the position of a message and a listener’s anchor point. Attitude change will increase with message discrepancy as long as the message aligns with the latitude of acceptance. This means that the application of the theory would raise ethical problems, especially in the realm of ego-involvement, the degree of which depends on whether the issue at hand could be perceived with detachment and the reliance on facts. The matters associated with religion, politics, family, and personal relationships contribute to the self-identity of potential listeners and can have an adverse influence on their perceptions.

It is imperative to approach SJT from the standpoint of neutrality and ethics when it comes to dealing with individuals that have deep concerns or extreme attitudes on either side of an argument. This is necessary to avoid having significant latitude of rejection when applying ethical judgment (Antes et al. 115). The three ethical decision-making criteria, which include utilitarianism, individualism, the focus on rights, and the focus on justice, are essential to integrate into the persuasive appeal.

Utilitarianism is a criterion that implies deciding on the basis of the outcomes and consequences of the act. Usually, the approach is consistent with such goals as efficiency, productivity, and high profits. While such outcomes as high profits are not concerned with the current persuasive appeal, the effectiveness of the compelling argument is vital to consider. For example, if the persuasive appeal implies the use of ethos and logos in a rhetorical approach, the consequences of the methods’ application should be considered when making the decision on whether the approach should be used.

The focus on rights, which aligns with the right ethical decision-making criteria, is an important criterion because it calls for the decision-making consistent with the main liberties and privileges as set forward in the regulatory documents that explain the rights that citizens have. An emphasis on the rights in the process of decision-making means to protect the basic rights of individuals, such as their right to free speech, privacy, and due process. In the context of the current persuasive appeal, the focus on rights works through the reflection on the impact of pathos and logos within the social context (McCormack 132). The third ethical criterion, the focus on justice, requires the imposing and enforcing of rules in a fair and impartial manner, so there is an equitable distribution of costs and benefits. Individualism is an approach to ethics that should also be considered. It suggests that an act is moral when it promotes the best long-term interests of an individual. With everyone trying to reach self-direction, the greater good will be ultimately served as people learn how to accommodate each other in their long-term personal interests.

Concluding Remarks

To conclude the current exploration, Social Judgment Theory is a rhetorical approach that uses both logos and ethos in order to reach the desired latitude of acceptance. In theory, the participation of a listener plays an integral role because it would influence the outcomes of a particular persuasive appeal (Tannenbaum et al. 1179). In the chosen persuasive appeal, logos and ethos act as the components of rhetoric that would facilitate the conviction of the target audience of a particular statement. SJT implies a change in attitude, a move from the latitude of rejection to the latitude of acceptance, and the perspective of an individual would dictate the way in which the transfer would take place. Furthermore, the immediate social environment and the general circumstances in which the act of persuasion takes place will have a direct impact on the attitude change.

Nevertheless, the analysis pointed to the most critical implication of SJT and its influence on the persuasive appeal. Persuasion is challenging to accomplish and depends on multiple variables associated with the positions of the persuader and the listener. Successful persuasive messages, which would include logos and ethos, are the ones that target a receiver’s latitude of acceptance and are dissimilar from the anchor statement. This way, the incoming statements cannot be contrasted or assimilated, with even successful attempts of persuasion yielding only small changes in attitude. Furthermore, the theory suggests that persuasion can take place over time with several messages.

The ego involvement principle embedded in the Social Judgement Theory is unique and represents multiple opportunities for research in the sphere of rhetoric. In order to be effective, rhetorical approaches should appeal to the personal perspectives and attitudes of the target audiences. In the majority of topics, listeners would have some perspective, which would prevent them from agreeing with a particular point of view offered by a presenter. Overall, attitude change is a complex task for presenters, as suggested by the current analysis.

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Works Cited

Antes, Alison, et al. “Applying Cases to Solve Ethical Problems: The Significance of Positive and Process-Oriented Reflection.” Ethics and Behavior, vol. 22, no. 2, 2012, pp. 113-130.

Atkin, Charles, and Sandi Smith. “Social Judgment Theory.” The International Encyclopedia of Communication, 2008, p. 152.

Higgins, Colin, and Robyn Walker. “Ethos, Logos, Pathos: Strategies of Persuasion in Social/Environmental Reports.” Accounting Forum, vol. 36, no. 3, 2012, pp. 194-208.

McCormack, Krista. “Ethos, Pathos, and Logos: The Benefits of Aristotelian Rhetoric in the Courtroom.” Washington University Jurisprudence Review, vol. 7, no. 1, 2014, pp. 131-155.

Sherif, Carolyn, et al. Attitude and Attitude Change: The Social Judgment-Involvement Approach. Saunders, 1965.

Tannenbaum, Melanie, et al. “Appealing to Fear: A Meta-Analysis of Feat Appeal Effectiveness and Theories.” Psychological Bulletin, vol. 141, no. 6, 2015, pp. 1178-1204.

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StudyCorgi. (2022, January 11). A Specific Theory of Persuasion: Social Judgment Theory. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/a-specific-theory-of-persuasion-social-judgment-theory/

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StudyCorgi. (2022, January 11). A Specific Theory of Persuasion: Social Judgment Theory. https://studycorgi.com/a-specific-theory-of-persuasion-social-judgment-theory/

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StudyCorgi. (2022) 'A Specific Theory of Persuasion: Social Judgment Theory'. 11 January.

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