Humanities (Comm 1050)

Austin Osborn

Professor Matthew Merkel


29 November 2015

Art of Argumentation

            You ever argue with someone and think, “How can anyone be so blindly ignorant?” The answer isn’t so much as said subject is an idiot but rather in the concept of Social Judgment Theory. Social Judgment Theory analyzes the feelings or attitudes towards any topic and, in one’s own mind, said attitude(s) are placed along a spectrum of moderates of extremes. Although we’ll delve in to the details of the theory, there are a few more important aspects of Social Judgment Theory we must also consider: The history of the theory, whether the theory has stood the test of time, and regardless of the prior two, whether Social Judgment Theory is worth more than yesterday’s lunch.


Working from example, let’s start with two sides of a hot issue: Abortion.  On the one hand, there is the woman’s right to do with her body as she pleases. Though on the other side of the coin, doesn’t the fetus have a right to life? Regardless of whose right and wrong, there are various attitudes along a spectrum that one may take, which ranges from acceptance (agreement), non-commitment (indifference), and rejection (disagreement) (Chadwick,19XX). Samantha may advocate for the rights of the woman, but when it comes to persuading John who advocates the right of the fetus, she will get nowhere.

Now both John and Samantha are both very ego-involved in the issue of abortion. That is to say, that they both care deeply about this issue (aka one’s anchor on the topic). The argument between the two would involve a lot of yelling, but their arguments would involve how the woman shouldn’t have to go through to pains of pregnancy if she doesn’t want to, or how the fetus could become the person to cure cancer. Regardless of how sound their arguments are, neither will assimilate (persuade) the other. The closest either will get will to achieve the Boomerang effect, which in simple terms is reaffirming the other’s belief on their own side of the argument (aka strengthening their anchor), rather than being persuaded (Griffin, 2012).


Social Judgment Theory is rather young in comparison with some other theories. It was first put forth in 1961 by Muzafer Serif with a good portion of help from Carl Hovland and Carolyn Serif (Gale, 2008). Based upon judgment theory, it attempts to explain the process of attitude change through discrimination of various stances taken upon one issue or another. It paints said process in two steps: First, the audience determines how they feel about a message about how they feel about a topic, placing it somewhere along the theory’s spectrum; second, the audience’s attitude changes, depending upon the judgment they have made.

One of the most prominent, though loosely relevant to the theory itself, experiments done on Social Judgment Theory was conducted by Muzafer Serif and Henry Tajfel in the early 1970’s (Castillo, 2010). A sample of 48 boys, 14-15 years old, was initially divided into three groups of 16 boys each. Each group was shown 12 slides portraying different painting. One half of the paintings were by Kandinsky and the other half were painted by Klee. All the boys viewed the paintings without the signatures of the painter. After the exposition of the paintings, the boys were asked to express their preferences, which paintings did they like and which paintings did they hate.

After this initial stage of the experiment, the boys were seperated to two separate groups. They were given the impression that this grouping was based on the impressions that the experiment proctors received from them after the initial part of the experiment. The last stage of the experiment is the task of scoring each other. Each boy was given a task to award points to two other boys, one from his own group and one from the other group. The only information that each boy received was code numbers and the name of the group of the two boys they were chosen to award. There were two systems of awarding points that were employed by the researchers. In the second method of allocating points, Tajfel fiddled with the grids so that the most number of points the boys could give to their in-group meant that the out-group automatically got more points.

The results weren’t too surprising; Regardless of which point system used, both groups tried to tally the scores in favor of their own group.  Despite the meaningless groupings created by the experiment proctors, the subjects were able to identify with their respective groups and create a positive social identity through giving their in-group more points. This phenomenon is more commonly known as “self-serving bias.” Since every individual within a group was able to identify themselves with their group, the group is now associated with one’s self, and in turn, benefit of the group identified with benefit of the self (Castillo, 2010).


So here is where some things could do with a little update. Since the experiment previously mentioned, not much else experimentation about the theory as a whole has actually been conducted, at least anything that the author of this paper could find. What ought to be done are more relevant experiments to the theory itself, though it is often tested day-to-day whenever contention arises. There should be tests on each aspect of the theory: ego-involvement, attitudes of rejection and acceptance, relevance of the message itself. What’s more, these are experiments that need to be conducted on a wide variety of demographics, side-by-side and/or independent of one another.

As there is a lack of testing, there is no way of knowing how well cultural factors play a part in the functionality of this theory. Were one to make a hypothesis about the theory, it would go something like, “Kids from more privileged homes tend to have a lower ego-involvement in social issues such as crime and inflation than their far more unfortunate counterparts.” The very opposite may be true, but this is something that needs to be tested. Of course, it isn’t easy gathering volunteers, but should that obstacle be overcome, the information uncovered should prove worthwhile.


This section is one of the few times that it is actually appropriate for an author to interject his or her opinion. I’ve got a few problems with this theory that aren’t easy to just tide over. First, the theory is rather young and untested, as previously mentioned. What’s more, it’s too black and white, though this is more of an instinctual bias: Nothing is ever that easy. None of this means that Social Judgment Theory is the smelliest piece of trash in the dung-heap. Social Judgment Theory is broad and applicable, and the very basics of it can be seen in daily interactions with others, whether it be a dramatic tiff between significant others, or between you and that jerk-off who rudely bumped into you on the subway.

Moving to a more academic point of view, there are some serious flaws with Social Judgment Theory. Aside from the lack of actual data on it that even a layman can see is lacking, one of a few things Social Judgment Theory fails to take into account the content of the message itself (Benoit). Is it clear, or is it foggier than a night at the Loch Ness? Moreover, is the argument of the message strong, weak, or is there even one to begin with? There is also the audience to consider. How easy is the audience, whether it is a large mass or a single person, to persuade in general? That is to say, how high or low is their suggestibility? To top off the weak points of Social Judgment Theory, it fails to differentiate between ego-involvement and just a really extreme attitude, the former of which is somewhat easy to manipulate (Benoit). It sucks because ego-involvement is one of the cornerstones of Social Judgment Theory, and if it’s as sturdy as Aunt Judy’s cherry gelatin, the rest of the theory just crashes down around it.

Wrap up

It’s all well and good to study a theory and proclaim whether or not it’s worth its own salt, but what is to be drawn from Social Judgment Theory? Whether or not the common man has any use for such an idea? No, looking back on Social Judgment Theory history, what needs to be done on the theory, and the overall strength of it as a whole, the point of theory is to educate. And in the case of Social Judgment Theory, it’s trying to teach whatever audience it may happen to have is how to persuade one another, and should that fail, why you failed to persuade in the first place. Final thought of the author: Did I manage to persuade you, the audience, into thinking Social Judgment Theory is worthwhile, or just a heap of crap?


Works Cited

            -Griffin, E. (2012) A First Look at Communication Theory. McGraw-Hill Print Retrieved November 29, 2015.

-Chadwick (19XX) Social Judgment Theory Oregon State University Web Retrieved from Judgment Theory.html  November 29, 2015.

-Gale, T. (2008) Social Judgment Theory Web Retrieved from  November 29, 2015.

-O’Keefe, D. (1990) Social Judgment Theory Web Retrieved from  November 29, 2015.

– Castillo J. (2010) Social Judgment Theory Experiment Web Retrieved from  November 29, 2015.

-Benoit, W. (19XX) Persuasion Web Retrieved from  November 29, 2015.




This piece, unlike most long papers, actually taught me a few things: First, how useful outlines can actually be. Next was the increased familiarity with A.P.A. formatting I’ve now acquired, and shall be putting to good use in the future in my career as a student. And finally, I’ve learned about the theory in general, and how much work it really needs to be considered complete crap or the holy grail of Social Theorem.

Problems tend to arise in the learning process. This paper was no exception. The main issue I found was finding credible sources with relevant information. The internet, my primary researching tool, has a vast amount of information. The problem though is that not even a fraction of that information is useful, and even less are credible. I think I might want to get a library card, and get out of the house to do actual research.

While the problems I encountered served to only weaken this piece, but in my opinion, it is still quite strong. The gathered information is quite organized, and my word choice may be a bit over the top, but I use enough voice to hold interest, I hope. I guess the last weakness I can think of would be my choice of theory; the one I chose  is still somewhat young and poorly researched. Maybe Cognitive Dissonance would’ve been a better choice, however overdone that theory may be.