Theory of Social Judgment: How to Change the Opinion of People?

A theory about persuasion and about changing opinions through communication.

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When we establish interactions with people, debates and positions or conflicting opinions originate. What does it depend on whether we coincide or not with our interlocutor? And what do we think or judge a topic in a certain way?

The theory of the social judgment of Muzafer Sherif and collaborators tries to give answer to all this. In this article we will see what are the characteristics of the theory, the concept of “anchor” and how this theory influences persuasive processes.

Theory of the social judgment of Muzafer Sherif

The theory of social judgment was elaborated by Muzafer Sherif in 1965. Sherif was a social psychologist who was born in Turkey in 1906, and is considered one of the founders of social psychology, as well as one of its main representatives. But … what does your theory say?

The theory of social judgment predicts that the success of a message depends on the relationship between that message and the beliefs of the recipient.

The anchor concept

From social psychology it was studied and observed how in people who have certain established beliefs (according to Sherif, “anchors”) when making judgments about a specific case, ideas, proposals and objects that are close to said “anchor” will be seen as more similar to her than they really are. Consequently, said proposals or ideas will be assimilated.

In contrast, ideas, proposals and / or objects that are far from the “anchor”, will be perceived as more different than what they really are, and will be confronted and contrasted.

Issuer function

But, what function does the sender of the message have according to the theory of social judgment? Your point of view on the subject of the message will serve as “anchor”; in this way, if an issuer expresses a moderate opinion on a topic, and the listener has a position of greater opposition on the same subject, this person will tend to interpret the position of the issuer as similar to his (because it approaches the “anchor”).

On the other hand, the more in favor you are of an opinion and see that the issuer opposes it, the more likely it is that the person considers that the issuer has a more extreme opinion than actually has (because it moves away from the “anchor”).

Thus, in other words and by way of synthesis, the theory of social judgment states that we basically accept assimilated messages (close to the “anchor”) and reject contrasted messages (far from the “anchor”).

Conditions to assimilate or contrast a message

Do we know in what conditions the messages are assimilated and in which they are contrasted? Following this we could also ask ourselves: why do some people with the same opinion on a topic, react differently to the same message (some assimilate it and others contrast it)?

To answer these questions we must understand the concepts of the Social Judgment Theory: latitude of acceptance, latitude of rejection and latitude of non-commitment.

1. Accepted latitude

It includes all the affirmations that a person considers acceptable (that is to say, inclined to be accepted). Include your favorite position or opinion: the anchor.

2. Rejection Latitude

It includes all rejected or objected positions in relation to a topic on which the person thinks.

3. Latitude of no commitment

It implies all the positions that the person neither accepts nor rejects; that is, it does not commit to any but it does not exclude them either.

Latitudes function

These three latitudes will determine if a person finally assimilates or contrasts a message.

Thus, the messages that enter or fall into the latitude of acceptance or non-commitment, will be judged as closer to the favorite position (belief “anchor”), and this means that they will be assimilated messages.

On the other hand, messages that enter or fall at the latitude of rejection will be judged as farther away, and therefore will be contrasted messages.

An example of one of the problems that causes the difference of latitudes are the constant discriminations that are experienced all over the world.

Latitudes: degree of involvement

Latitudes also refer to the degree to which people are involved in a topic. According to M. Sherif, the involvement is the “belonging of a group with knowledge of cause”.

1. High involvement

Thus, a high involvement implies that there is a narrow latitude of acceptance: the opinion of the person is the only acceptable one.

It also implies that the latitude of rejection is wide: any different opinion is rejected. And finally, it includes a narrow latitude of no commitment: it is difficult to be neutral, although it can be for some opinions.

2. Under involvement

On the other hand, a low involvement implies the opposite: a latitude of wide acceptance, where people are willing to accept multiple (and different) positions on the subject in question, outside or far from their “anchor”.

It also includes a latitude of broad commitment, allowing many opinions to exist before which the person is neutral, and finally a latitude of narrow rejection, which implies that there is not much to reject, and that if something remains, it does not matter much.


We can also relate the theory of social judgment to the processes of persuasion. The theory explains that the mentioned effects of assimilation and contrast also occur in the processes of persuasion. Assimilation constitutes persuasion, and the effect of contrast, the failure of it.

Another basic principle of the theory of social judgment in relation to persuasion is that in order to change the most accepted position on a subject of a person, it is convenient that the message be oriented towards the latitude of acceptance of said person.

In addition, a person who tries to persuade, will try to expand the latitude of acceptance, making a “call” from the latitude of no commitment. That is to say, it will try that the latitude of acceptance includes more positions inclined to be accepted.

If the persuader is successful, it will expand the acceptance latitude of the recipient or person receiving the message; this will imply that your “target” increases for a second persuasive attempt.