Faulty Judgement Theory

Posted: April 1, 2012 in Uncategorized

In Communication, it is important to try to analyze the information that we are exposed to in our daily lives if we wish to develop as human beings.  Theory helps us to define various factors that determine our responses to messages we receive.

In most cases, we see ourselves and others as intelligent individuals capable of making well-informed, sound decisions. So how is it that so many of the ideas that we form and the decisions we make are counterproductive? So much of the conclusions we draw are based on our own personal biases. Our subjective beliefs have a tendency to cloud our judgments on what is true. Furthermore, the greater our conviction in what we believe, the more we ignore the limitations of those beliefs.

Premise one ~ our conclusions are formed from our initial encounters.   

Errors in judgment can occur naturally from our first exposure to new encounters. People receive a new piece of information from a trusted friend or an authority figure and then they act on it without checking other sources. Individuals make these common errors in their daily routines with purchases they have to make to move serious decisions like their healthcare concerns. And to compound this dilemma, once their opinions are formed, it is a challenge to change them.

People draw premature conclusions from various influences in their lives. When an individual wishes to make a purchase, they may turn to a trusted friend for some advice.   For example, a person wants to buy a new laptop. He asks his best friend to give him some advice on what to buy. His friend tells him which brand of computer he himself owns and raves about its qualities. The individual doesn’t bother to do any further research; he runs to the nearest computer store and buys the exact same model. Even if the laptop prematurely breaks down, this person will insist that his decision was a sound one even though he didn’t look into other computer models or seek out other advice.

Other errors in judgment also occur in our healthcare decisions. For instance, when individuals visit a physician, they follow what the doctor tells them to do verbatim. Very rarely do they question the doctor’s advice or seek out a second opinion. As a result of this, misdiagnosed patients may risk endangering their health. According to Mead, the inspiration of Symbolic Interactionism, argued that once people define a situation as real, it’s very real in its consequences (Griffin, 2006, p. 60).

Premise two ~ individuals falsely assign additional traits to people or situations.

When people encounter beautiful people, images of famous celebrities and sports stars, they tend to falsely attach additional adoring attributes to these people without any evidence. Furthermore, individuals have the tendency to assign additional negative traits to those people or situations that they find unattractive. People are constantly and unfairly judging and are being judged based on what is perceived as desirable or not.

When people are in the presence of attractive or self-assured people, we tend to give them more positive traits which are based in the absence of fact. In addition, individuals will also defend their judgments no matter how wrong they are. Blumer stated that “Humans act towards people or things on the basis of the meanings they assign to those people or things” (Griffin, 2006,  p.60).  The handsome man or beautiful woman is also intelligent, charming, well-travelled, and interesting. Similarly, people assign further positive traits to individuals who possess positive personality characteristics. For example, a person may hire someone for a job based on the fact that he or she is outgoing and confident which may have little or no bearing on whether or not they are capable of doing the job.

            This dilemma does not solely exist in personal encounters. It is also widespread in the arena of advertising. Advertising agencies use the idea of falsely assign attributes to help sell their products. Advertisers have known all along that if they link a product they are trying to sell with a famous personality or attractive individuals, we as consumers, will want the product. People hold the assumption that if they purchase these items, they will buy into all of the positive attributes that come with it. Roland Barthes, a theorist of Semiotics, illustrates this by citing a commercial that aired during the 1998 NBA playoffs. It featured Michael Jordan slam dunking a basketball while drinking Gatorade. As a result of drinking this magical elixir, individuals are left to believe that this product will grant them extra sport- enhancing abilities (Griffin, 2006, p.330).

Just as people give favorable traits to individuals or situations, they add negative traits to people or situations that they find unappealing as well. This practice however can be far more unjust and demeaning to an individual. For instance, people may view an overweight person as lazy with a lack of self-control. Additionally, a person they find physically unattractive is now also unintelligent, boring, and in some cases, dangerous. According to Griffin (2006),”Name-calling can be devastating because the epithets force us to view ourselves in a warped mirror. The grotesque images aren’t easily dismissed”  (p. 66).

Premise three ~ individuals seek out evidence that supports their beliefs and retreats from evidence to the contrary.

            No one likes to feel bad or look foolish in the decisions he or she makes. People look for evidence that align with their choices and ignore evidence that goes against their decisions. In addition, individuals find solace and support in like-minded people who share their opinions to the point that contradicting viewpoints from outside groups become obsolete. Furthermore, a person’s religious beliefs can be the most challenging for an individual to dispute because of the importance it holds to that person’s identity.

Making a big financial decision on a major purchase can be a painstaking ordeal. After the purchase, individuals may spend countless hours worrying and wondering if they made the right choice. This is what Leon Festinger, the founder of Cognitive Dissonance Theory, callspostdecision dissonance (Griffin, 2006, p.208). In an attempt to try and alleviate stress, a person will seek out other individuals or information that supports his or her decision. In addition, the person will also avoid any information that suggests the decision was a wrong choice. For example, a couple has decided on an expensive trip. The list of items that is a concern prior to the purchase of the tickets is no longer an issue. The once too hot location is now just perfect and tiny hotel room is now cozy. The couple will search various web sites to find glowing reviews of their destination and find friends who have been there and “loved it”. Similarly, they will avoid any information or people that disagree with their choice.

In addition to people seeking out support in postdecision dissonance, individuals tend to surround themselves with others who share their opinions and beliefs. Belonging to a group brings a sense of unity and support. Festtinger claimed that like-minded people buffer us from ideas that could cause discomfort (Griffin, p.207).  However, the more people surround themselves with others who share their opinions, the more they fail to see limitations of the group. And in many cases, individuals will entirely ignore another group’s opinions if it does not align with their own. According to Social Judgment Theory’s Muzafer Sherif, group membership can dramatically change individual’s perception (Griffin 2006, p. 183). For instance, there has been an ongoing debate between alternative medicine and conventional medicine. Opponents of conventional medicine view alternative medicine as an ineffective form of treatment which has very little scientific evidence of any curative properties. Whereas Opponents of alternative medicine view conventional medicine as a dangerous system that only addresses the symptomology of healthcare concerns. As a result, both parties will seek out other individuals to support their ideology and fail to acknowledge any benefits that the opposing system has to offer.

Another example of people failing to acknowledge the limitation of their judgments would be in the area of religion .The stronger a person’s religious beliefs, the more problematic it will be for them to change those beliefs. This idea is similar to what Sherif refers to as ego-involvement.The higher one’s ego-involvement about an issue, the more important it is to that individual,  thus the harder it is to alter that person’s attitude (Griffin, 2006, p.185).   Religion, in and of itself, can be a very positive and spiritually uplifting experience and most religions share the same fundamental message of hope, love, and tolerance. However, people’s belief in religion can get so completely polarized that the message gets lost. Dogmatic opinions take precedence over new innovative ideas to the detriment of its followers by out casting individuals based on sex, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.  

If we wish to make informed decisions and be able to open our hearts and minds to new ideas, it is essential that we stop and evaluate the positives and negatives of any actions we take. Similarly, we, as thinking, rational beings, must dispute our absolute beliefs and seek out information and opinions from our own. We must strive to listen what is around us and embrace new truths. Only then can we truly communicate.







Griffin, E. (2006). A first look at communication theory. Singapore, McGraw-Hill

                   Education Asia.


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