Of the many scientific approaches to persuasion, a particularly interesting approach is that of Muzafer Sherif and Carl Hovland’s Social Judgment Theory, discussed in our class reading by Benoit and Benoit. The Social Judgment Theory is a model of judgment which requires the listener to evaluate how much he or she agrees or disagrees with a message. This model takes into account the listeners “involvement” in the message, or the importance of the message to the listener.
The model begins by defining the “anchor” point, which is the listeners beginning attitude towards the message, and then evaluates the discrepancy between the messages position and the listener’s attitude. To do this, the model defines a “latitude of acceptance”, a “latitude of non-commitment”, and a “latitude of rejection”. The “latitude of acceptance” contains the range of positions that a listener would find agreeable with their attitude, the “latitude of non-commitment” encompasses the range of positions that a listener might disagree with, but not to the point at which the listener would completely reject the message, and finally the “latitude of rejection” includes all of the positions for which a listener would completely reject. These latitudes are mapped out upon a number line from -3 to 3, and are all based solely upon the listeners attitude and opinions. According to Benoit and Benoit, the most persuasive messages fall in the “latitude of non-commitment” just before the “latitude of rejection” and the greater the discrepancy is from the listeners attitude, without falling into rejection, the greater the change of the listeners attitude.
To show how the Social Judgment Theory is used, I have selected a recent advertisement by Burger King. Burger King is a well-known fast food restaurant famous for their burgers and was recently involved in a horse meat scandal over in Europe, which has somewhat affected their reputation. Before watching the video and given my personal beliefs and knowledge of the restaurant, I would initially place my attitude towards eating at Burger King at a very low -3. This is due to my strong values towards animals and my vegetarianism. This places my latitude of acceptance from -3 to -2, my latitude of non-commitment somewhere between -2 and 0, and my latitude of rejection anywhere between 0 and 3. Unexpectedly, the advertisement for Burger King did not have images of burgers and other meats, it was instead entirely about salads. Being a vegetarian, salads are a food that I enjoy and given that I am on the road often with my band, and we stop at fast food restaurants a lot, it is good to know that there is now one more place that I can feel confident will have food for me. On the other hand, I still realize that Burger King makes their primary profit from the sale of animal products, and this goes against my values. This would place my perception of the message in between -1 and 0, which is inside my “latitude of non-commitment”. I am not completely rejecting the fact that I should eat at Burger King, because there are times when I have few options and Burger is now one of them, however given the choice I would prefer to not eat there. In my case, this advertisement has successfully done its job by shifting my attitude of Burger King from complete rejection towards partial acceptance, for meat-eaters, however, a salad may be completely irrelevant to their attitude towards Burger King, thus making the advertisement ineffective for them.