Changes in Latitude, Changes in Attitude: How the Social Judgement Theory may help with communicating about agriculture

No, this isn’t a column about the Jimmy Buffett song.

You may be thinking, “great, some hotshot guy who is in college is going to preach to us about things they learned in class.” I will not preach, but I will suggest this theory will assist when it comes to talking about agriculture and the issues you hear every day.

In a previous post, I asked the question of how can agriculture communicators, bloggers, and others involved with talking about agriculture, craft a persuasive message that conveys what the industry is doing today.

People will stay within their echo chamber because they do not want to create any dissonance. Part of the problem of creating dissonance can be attributed to people’s attitudes and beliefs and their original position, or anchor point, on an issue.

The Social Judgement Theory states that people hold an anchor point or their preferred position on an issue. When the public is presented with a message, they have different latitudes by which they judge the message depending on how important the topic is to them or ego-involvement. They can be three different categories of latitude: acceptance, rejection, and non-commitment. The higher the level of ego-involvement, the importance of an issue is to our self-identity, the smaller the latitude of acceptance. The most effective alignment occurs when a message falls within a healthy range of our latitudes, i.e., not too close and not too far from our anchor position.

Social Judgment theory also discusses two different perceptual processes, called assimilation and contrast. These two effects occur when a message is very close to the listener’s own attitude (assimilation) or disagrees with the audience (contrast). The most effective alignment occurs when a message falls within a healthy range of our latitudes, i.e., not too close and not too far from our anchor position. The theory also states that if the message is beyond the latitude of acceptance, it requires repeated exposure.

 

Social-judgment-process-of-message-perception-after-Sherif-Levine-et-al-2016

 

How many times have we seen or heard that one annoying commercial for a business and yet can sing the jingle or recite their tagline? With the Social Judgement theory, some of the messages that fall in other parts of the latitude of rejection might be persuasive if the messages are strong. We just need to craft information within these guidelines to change the attitudes and beliefs of how consumers feel about issues in agriculture.

Let me use an example to explain how this theory works.

Organic Screenshot

 

The attached photo, while it is true, is a degree of latitude opposite of what a person who buys organic feels or believes regarding the use of chemicals in a product. People who buy organic products have a high-level of ego involvement; therefore, being receptive to this message is very small. They will reject the argument that these chemicals naturally occur in conventional and organic foods. The same reason they also associate chemicals as something man-made even though everything is composed of chemicals. If someone says “water” it sounds fine to a person, but if you say “dihydrogen monoxide,” it has an ominous sound to it. An argument could explain where these chemicals are derived and how they occur naturally in the environment.

The use of the “USDA Pesticide Data Program” also creates dissonance. Even though organic production uses pesticides that are derived from natural sources, people who buy organic do not want to hear that they are used in the production of food.

Perhaps, the use of the words “substances” rather than chemicals, and not mentioning pesticides might be closer to a person’s anchor point. From there, you can craft a message explaining how the ad from Stonyfield is deceptive rather than say it is false.

Yes, this has been tried before, but it requires reinforcing a unified message from those in the industry, trade groups, and bloggers related to agriculture.

Like the picture, you can argue whether it is duck season or rabbit season, just like it is wrong or right. Unless you craft a message that says something close to the position a person holds and still is the message you are trying to convey, then it will result in Elmer Fudd shooting both of you regardless if it is rabbit or duck season.

 

 

 

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