Social Judgment Theory and Gun Control

Social judgment theory says that an audience already has a preconceived notion on a topic. This is usually mapped on a scale from -3 to 3. For example, let’s use gun control with a -3 being anti-gun control and 3 being pro-gun control. Let’s say that a particular person feels neither for nor against gun control. In this case we would put this person’s preconceived notion at a 0. Social judgment theory also has what’s called latitudes of non-commitment, latitude of acceptance, and latitudes of rejection. The latitude of acceptance is the range of acceptable or plausible attitudes. For example, this person may be ok with attitudes about gun control from -1 to 1. The latitudes of non-commitment are ranges of positions which the person might disagree with, but not so much that they immediately reject them. For instance, this person’s latitudes of non-commitment might be from -2 to -1 and 1 to 2 since the positions lean a little more one way or the other, but they are not extreme enough for the person to reject the ideas immediately. The latitudes of rejection are the ranges of positions that the person will actively reject as wrong. For instance, this person’s latitudes of rejection might be from -3 to -2 and 2 to 3 since the opinions are a little more extreme. There are four rules to the social judgment theory: there must be only one latitude of acceptance, there must be at least one latitude of non-commitment and at least one latitude of rejection, there may be two latitudes of non-commitment, and there can be two latitudes of rejection. To persuade someone, social judgment theory says that you should target the general area of their latitudes of non-commitment. However there are a couple catches, assimilation error, and contrasted error. Assimilation error is if something is close to the boundaries of the latitude of acceptance, the person will not be persuaded because they will assume it’s in the latitude of acceptance. Contrasted error is if something is close to the boundary of the latitude of rejection, the person will not be persuaded because they will think it is farther away from their attitude then it really is.
The artifact that I have chosen is a cartoon that attempts to persuade people in favor of anti-gun control by pointing out that banning alcohol didn’t work at all. To evaluate this in the context of social judgment theory, let’s assume the same scale as above, with -3 being anti-gun control and 3 being pro-gun control. This cartoon seems to be targeting people whose latitude of non-commitment would include around a -1. I feel this cartoon is around a -1 because it is definitely anti-gun control, but it isn’t super extreme. In fact it seems to make a logical appeal that might get people thinking about how effective banning guns would be. Not only did prohibition not work, but one could also make the argument that banning pot and other drugs has not worked at all.

Alex Youngman

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