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Encyclopedia > Affect Control Theory

Affect control theory proposes that individuals maintain affective meanings through their actions and interpretations of events. The activity of social institutions occurs through maintenance of culturally based affective meanings.


Affective Meaning

Besides a denotative meaning, every concept has an affective meaning, or connotation, that varies along three dimensions (Charles E. Osgood, May & Miron 1975): Evaluation — goodness versus badness, Potency — powerfulness versus powerlessness, and Activity — liveliness versus torpidity. Affective meanings can be measured with semantic differentials yielding a three-number profile indicating how the concept is positioned on Evaluation, Potency, and Activity (EPA). An elementary concept conveyed by a word or idiom has a normative affective meaning within a particular culture. For the more specialised meaning of Connotation in semiotics, see connotation (semiotics). ... Charles E. Osgood is a distinguished psychologist who developed a technique for measurement of connotative meaning of concepts known as the semantic differential. ... Semantic differential is a type of a rating scale designed to measure connotative meaning of objects, events, and concepts. ...

A stable affective meaning derived either from personal experience of from cultural inculcation is called a sentiment, or fundamental affective meaning, in affect control theory. Affect control theory has inspired assembly of dictionaries of EPA sentiments for thousands of concepts involved in social life — identities, behaviors, settings, personal attributes, and emotions. Sentiment dictionaries have been constructed with ratings of respondents from the U.S.A., Canada, Northern Ireland, Germany, Japan, and China (both the People’s Republic and Taiwan).

Impression Formation

Each concept that is in play in a situation has a transient affective meaning in addition to an associated sentiment. The transient corresponds to an impression created by recent events.

Events modify impressions on all three EPA dimensions in complex ways that are described with non-linear equations obtained through empirical studies (see Heise 1979, Ch. 2; Smith-Lovin & Heise 1988; Britt & Heise 1992; Smith, Matsuno & Umino 1994; and Smith & Francis 2005). To do: 20th century mathematics chaos theory, fractals Lyapunov stability and non-linear control systems non-linear video editing See also: Aleksandr Mikhailovich Lyapunov Dynamical system External links http://www. ...

Here are two examples of impression-formation processes.

  • An actor who behaves disagreeably seems less good, especially if the object of the behavior is innocent and powerless, like a child.
  • A powerful person seems desperate when performing extremely forceful acts on another, and the object person may seem invincible.

A social action creates impressions of the actor, the object person, the behavior, and the setting.


Deflections are the distances in the EPA space between transient and fundamental affective meanings. For example, a mother complimented by a stranger feels that the unknown individual is much nicer than a stranger is supposed to be, and a bit too potent and active as well — thus there is a moderate distance between the impression created and the mother's sentiment about strangers. High deflections in a situation produce an aura of unlikeliness or uncanniness (Heise & MacKinnon 1988). If maintained over time, high deflections generate psychological stress (Heise 2007, pp. 60-62).

The basic cybernetic idea of affect control theory can be stated in terms of deflections. An individual selects a behavior that produces the minimum deflections for concepts involved in the action. Minimization of deflections is described by equations derived with calculus from empirical impression-formation equations (Heise 2007, Part II). Cybernetics is a theory of the communication and control of regulatory feedback. ...


On entering a scene an individual defines the situation by assigning identities to each participant, frequently in accord with an encompassing social institution (Heise 2007, Ch. 5). While defining the situation, the individual tries to maintain the affective meaning of self through adoption of an identity whose sentiment serves as a surrogate for the individual's self-sentiment (Heise 2007, Chs. 10, 16). The identities assembled in the definition of the situation determine the sentiments that the individual tries to maintain behaviorally.

Confirming sentiments associated with institutional identities — like doctor-patient, lawyer-client, or professor-student — creates institutionally relevant role behavior (Heise 1979, Ch. 5; MacKinnon 1994, Ch. 6; Heise 2007, Ch. 7). A function is part of an answer to a question about why some object or process occurred in a system that evolved or was designed with some goal. ...

Confirming sentiments associated with negatively evaluated identities — like bully, glutton, loafer, or scatterbrain — generates deviant behavior (Heise 1979, pp. 118-124; Heise 2007, pp. 53-55). Deviant redirects here. ...

Affect control theory's sentiment databases and mathematical model are combined in a computer simulation program (Heise 1997) for analyzing social interaction in various cultures.


An event generates emotions for the individuals involved in the event by changing impressions of the individuals. The emotion is a function of the impression created of the individual and of the difference between that impression and the sentiment attached to the individual’s identity (Heise 2007, Chs. 8, 14). Thus, for example, an event that creates a negative impression of an individual generates unpleasant emotion for that person, and the unpleasantness is worse if the individual believes she has a highly valued identity. Similarly, an event creating a positive impression generates a pleasant emotion, all the more pleasant if the individual believes he has a disvalued identity in the situation. Emotional redirects here. ...

Non-linear equations describing how transients and fundamentals combine to produce emotions have been derived in empirical studies (Averett & Heise 1988; Heise & Thomas 1989; Smith, Matsuno & Ike, 2001). Affect control theory's computer simulation program (Heise 1997) uses these equations to predict emotions that arise in social interaction, and displays the predictions via facial expressions that are computer drawn, as well as in terms of emotion words. A facial expression results from one or more motions or positions of the muscles of the face. ...

Emotion is distinct from stress (Heise 2007, p. 62). A parent enjoying intensely pleasant emotions while interacting with an offspring suffers no stress. A homeowner attending to a sponging house guest may feel no emotion and yet be experiencing substantial stress.


Others’ behaviors are interpreted so as to minimize the deflections they cause (Nelson 2006). A man turning away from another and exiting through a doorway could be engaged in several different actions, like departing from, deserting, or escaping from the other. Observers choose among the alternatives so as to minimize deflections associated with their definitions of the situation. Observers who assigned different identities to the observed individuals could have different interpretations of the behavior.

Re-definition of the situation may follow an event that causes large deflections which cannot be resolved by reinterpreting the behavior (Heise 1979, pp. 86-89, 127-132; MacKinnon 1994, Ch. 8; Heise 2007, Chs. 9, 13). In this case, observers assign new identities that are confirmed by the behavior. For example, seeing a father slap a son, one might re-define the father as an abusive parent, or perhaps as a strict disciplinarian; or one might re-define the son as an arrogant brat. Affect control theory predicts the plausible re-identifications, thereby providing a formal model for labeling theory. It has been suggested that Labelling be merged into this article or section. ...

The sentiment associated with an identity can change to befit the kinds of events in which that identity is involved, when situations keep arising where the identity is deflected in the same way, especially when identities are informal and non-institutionalized (Heise 2006).


Affect control theory has been used in research on emotions (e.g., Francis 1988; Heise & Calhan 1995; Robinson & Smith-Lovin 1999; Heise & Weir 1999; Rashotte 2002; Lively & Heise 2004; Lively & Powell 2006; MacKinnon & Goulbourne 2006; Smith & Miow-Lin 2006; Smith-Lovin, Robinson & Wisecup 2001), gender (e.g., Kroska 1997; Smith, Umino & Matsuno 1998; Langford & Mackinnon 2000; Kroska 2001; Kroska 2003), social structure (e.g., Mackinnon & Langford 1994; Robinson 1996; Britt & Heise 2000; MacKinnon & Luke 2002; Lovaglia, Youngreen & Robinson 2005), , politics (e.g., Berbrier 1998; Schneider 1999; Heise & Lerner 2006; Heise 2006; Troyer & Robinson 2006), deviance and law (e.g., Scher & Heise 1993; Tsoudis & Smith-Lovin 1998; Schneider 1999; Tsoudis 2000; Tsoudis & Smith-Lovin 2001; Thomassen 2002; Kalkhoff 2002; Kroska & Harkness 2006), the arts (e.g., Anderson & McMaster 1982; Dunphy & MacKinnon 2002; MacKinnon 2003; Doyle & Bottomley 2006), and business (e.g., Smith 1995; Lee 1998; Schneider 2002; Moore & Robinson 2006).


Anderson, C. W. & G. E. McMaster (1982), "Computer assisted modeling of affective tone in written documents", Computers and the Humanities 16: 1-9.

Averett, Christine & David Heise (1987), "Modified social identities: Amalgamations, attributions, and emotions", Journal of Mathematical Sociology 13: 103-132.

Berbrier, Mitch (1998), "'Half the battle': Cultural resonance, framing processes, and ethnic affectations in contemporary white separatist rhetoric", Social Problems 45: 431-450.

Britt, Lory & David Heise (1992), "Impressions of self-directed action", Social Psychology Quarterly 55: 335-350.

Britt, Lory & David Heise (2000), "From shame to pride in identity politics", in Stryker, Sheldon & Tim Owens, Self, Identity, and Social Movements, at 252-268.

Doyle, John & Paul Bottomley (2006), "Dressed for the occasion: Font-product congruity in the perception of logotype", Journal of Consumer Psychology 16: 112-123.

Dunphy, Tara & Neil MacKinnon (2002), "A Proposal for Integrating Folklore and Affect Control Theory", Electronic Journal of Sociology 6.

Francis, Linda (1997), "Ideology and interpersonal emotion management: Redefining identity in two support groups", Social Psychology Quarterly 60: 153-171.

Heise, David (1979), Understanding Events: Affect and the Construction of Social Action, New York: Cambridge University Press.

Heise, David (1997). [http//www.indiana.edu/~socpsy/ACT/interact/JavaInteract.html] Interact On-Line (Java applet).

Heise, David (2006), "Sentiment formation in social interaction", in McClelland, Kent & Thomas Fararo, Purpose, Meaning, and Action : Control Systems Theories in Sociology, at 189-211.

Heise, David (2007), Expressive Order: Confirming Sentiments in Social Actions, New York: Springer.

Heise, David & Neil MacKinnon (1987), "Affective bases of likelihood perception", Journal of Mathematical Sociology 13: 133-151.

Heise, David & Lisa Thomas (1989), "Predicting impressions created by combinations of emotion and social identity", Social Psychology Quarterly 52: 141-148.

Heise, David & Cassandra Calhan (1995), "Emotion norms in interpersonal events", Social Psychology Quarterly 58: 223-240.

Heise, David & Brian Weir (1999), "A test of symbolic interactionist predictions about emotions in imagined situations", Symbolic Interaction 22: 129-161.

Heise, David & Steven Lerner (2006), "Affect control in international interactions", Social Forces 85: 993-1010.

Kalkhoff, Will (2002), "Delinquency and violence as affect-control: Reviving the subcultural approach in criminology", Electronic Journal of Sociology 6.

Kroska, Amy (1997), "The division of labor in the home: A review and reconceptualization", Social Psychology Quarterly 60: 304-322.

Kroska, Amy (2001), "Do we have consensus? Examining the relationship between gender ideology and role meanings", Social Psychology Quarterly 64: 18-40.

Kroska, Amy (2003), "Investigating gender differences in the meaning of household chores and child care", Journal of Marriage and Family 65: 456-473.

Kroska, Amy & Sarah Harkness (2006), "Stigma sentiments and self-meanings: Exploring the modified labeling theory of mental illness", Social Psychology Quarterly.

Langford, Tom & Neil MacKinnon (2000), "The affective basis for the gendering of traits: Comparing the United States and Canada", Social Psychology Quarterly 63: 34-48.

Lee, James (1998), "Which kids can 'become' scientists? Effects of gender, self-concepts, and perceptions of scientists", Social Psychology Quarterly 61: 199-219.

Lively, Kathryn & David Heise (2004), "Sociological realms of emotional experience", American Journal of Sociology 109: 1109-36.

Lively, Kathryn & Brian Powell (2006), "Emotional expression at work and at home: Domain, status, or individual characteristics", Social Psychology Quarterly 69: 17-38.

Lovaglia, Michael; Reef Youngreen & Dawn Robinson (2005), "Identity maintenance, affect control, and cognitive performance", Advances in Group Processes 22: 65-92.

MacKinnon, Neil (1994), Symbolic Interactionism as Affect Control, Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

MacKinnon, Neil & Tom Langford (1994), "The meaning of occupational prestige scores: A social psychological analysis and interpretation", Sociological Quarterly 35: 215-245.

MacKinnon, Neil & Allison Luke (2002), "Changes in identity attitudes as reflections of social and cultural change", Canadian Journal of Sociology 27: 299-338.

MacKinnon, Neil & Michelle Goulbourne (2006), "The affect control theory of emotions: The case of depression", in McClelland, Kent & Thomas Fararo, Purpose, Meaning, and Action: Control Sytems Theories in Sociology, at 237-266.

Moore, Christopher & Dawn Robinson (2006), "Selective identity preferences: Choosing from among alternative occupational identities", Advances in Group Processes 23: 253-281.

Nelson, Steven (2006), "Redefining a bizarre situation: Relative concept stability in affect control theory", Social Psychology Quarterly 69: 215-234.

Osgood, Charles; W. H. May & M. S. Miron (1975), Cross-Cultural Universals of Affective Meaning, Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Rashotte, Lisa (2002), "Incorporating nonverbal behaviors into affect control theory", Electronic Journal of Sociology 6.

Robinson, Dawn (1996), "Identity and friendship: Affective dynamics and network formation", Advances in Group Processes 13: 91-111.

Robinson, Dawn & Lynn Smith-Lovin (1999), "Emotion display as a strategy for identity negotiation", Motivation and Emotion 23: 73-104.

Scher, Steven & David Heise (1993), "Affect and the perception of injustice.", Advances in Group Processes 10: 223-252.

Schneider, Andreas (1999), "U.S. Neo-Conservatism: Cohort and Cross-Cultural Perspective", International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy 19: 56-86.

Schneider, Andreas (1999), "The violent character of sexual-eroticism in cross-cultural comparison", International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy 18: 81-100.

Schneider, Andreas (2002), "Computer simulation of behavior prescriptions in multi-cultural corporations", Organization Studies 23: 105-131.

Smith-Lovin, Lynn & David Heise (1988), Analyzing Social Interaction: Advances in Affect Control Theory, New York: Gordon and Breach. This is a reprint of the Journal of Mathematical Sociology, Volume 13 (1-2), and it contains cited articles by Averett & Heise and Heise & MacKinnon.

Smith-Lovin, Lynn; Dawn Robinson & Allison Wisecup (2006), "Affect control theory and emotions", in Stets, Jan & Jon Turner, Handbook of the Sociology of Emotions.

Smith, Herman (1995), "Predicting stress in American-Japanese business relations", Journal of Asian Business 12: 79-89.

Smith, Herman; Takanori Matsuno & Michio Umino (1994), "How similar are impression-formation processes among Japanese and Americans?", Social Psychology Quarterly 57: 124-139.

Smith, Herman; Michio Umino & Takanori Matsuno (1998), "The formation of gender-differentiated sentiments in Japan", Journal of Mathematical Sociology 22: 373-395.

Smith, Herman; Takanori Matsuno & Shuuichirou Ike (2001), "The affective basis of attributional processes among Japanese and Americans", Social Psychology Quarterly 64: 180-194.

Smith, Herman & Linda Francis (2005), "Social versus self-directed events among Japanese and Americans: Self-actualization, emotions, moods, and trait disposition labeling", Social Forces volume = 84: 821-830.

Smith, Herman & MiowLin Yap (2006), "Guilty Americans and shameful Japanese? An affect control test of Benedict's thesis", in McClelland, Kent & Thomas Fararo, Purpose, Meaning, and Action: Control Systems Theories in Sociology, at 213-236.

Thomassen,, Lisa (2002), "An alcoholic is good and sober: Sentiment change in AA", Deviant Behavior: An Interdisciplinary Journal 23: 177-200.

Troyer, Lisa & Dawn Robinson (2006), "Contributions of a microsociological perspective on emotion to the study of political identity and action", in Redlawsk, D., Feeling Politics: Emotion in Political Information Processing, at 47-56.

Tsoudis, Olga & Lynn Smith-Lovin (1998), "How bad was it? The effects of victim and perpetrator emotion on responses to criminal court vignettes", Social Forces 77: 695-722.

Tsoudis, Olga & Lynn Smith-Lovin (2001), "Criminal identity: The key to situational construals in mock criminal court cases", Sociological Spectrum 21: 3-31.

Tsoudis, Olga (2000), "Relation of affect control theory to the sentencing of criminals", Journal of Social Psychology 140: 473-485.

Tsoudis, Olga (2000), "The likelihood of victim restitution in mock cases: Are the 'rules of the game' different from prison and probation?", Social Behavior and Personality 28: 483-500.

External links

  • Affect Control Theory website



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