Affect Control Theory

The mathematical theory of social interaction, ACT, or affect control theory, is based on empirical data. In the early 1970s, David R. Heise created the idea based on symbolic interactionist discoveries on the primacy of language and symbolic labeling of circumstances.
Affect Control Theory Sociology Definition


The mathematical theory of social interaction, ACT, or affect control theory, is based on empirical data. In the early 1970s, David R. Heise created the idea based on symbolic interactionist discoveries on the primacy of language and symbolic labeling of circumstances. Affect control theory puts forward the idea that people preserve emotional meanings via their behaviors and perceptions of the world. Social institutions function by upholding emotive meanings that have cultural roots.


The theory starts with the idea that humans decrease existential uncertainty by establishing “working understandings” of their social contexts, inspired by early symbolic interactionists’ pragmatic philosophy.

According to the idea, actors assign labels to various social situational aspects using the cultural symbols at their disposal. The argument continues by saying that actors are driven to uphold this working definition after developing it.

According to ACT, individuals’ labels to social circumstances elicit emotive meanings. Consequently, people strive to retain these meanings throughout the communication.

Affect Control Theory dimensions

The emotional meanings connected to particular labels are measured using three distinct dimensions, a set of equations is used to explain how events modify those meanings, and a mathematical function is used to determine what behaviors would best retain or restore original intentions. This formalization, which consists of the measurement framework, the event response equations, and the mathematical description of the control process, contains the theory’s essential elements. The mathematical formulations of the theory embody it.

Scope of ACT

Scope assertions outline the circumstances under which a theory is applicable. For example, the ACT covers social interactions that are influenced by culture. As a result, the theory’s application is highly varied. However, there are a few particular circumstances that restrict its applicability:

A. Guided social behavior exists.

B. At least one of the observers belongs to a recognized linguistic culture.

C. The idea only applies to social experiences that can be labeled.

Sentiments – Affect Control Theory

The affective response concept, which underpins the sentiments act, presupposes that individuals react emotionally to every social occurrence. Evaluation, potency, and activity are the three elements of meaning that the theory uses to define these emotional reactions.

As a cultural shorthand, these three basic dimensions of meaning help to describe crucial social information about all aspects of an encounter, including identities, actions, emotions, and situations.

A. Evaluation. The evaluative dimension captures the degree of goodness or badness individuals identifies with an idea. It has a two-dimensional connotation that may be described as lovely, warm, good, ugly, cold, or awful.

B. Potency. The potency dimension captures the degree of power or weakness we connect with a topic. It has a dual dimension of meaning that runs the gamut from large, powerful, and vital to tiny, helpless, and weak.

C. Activity. The activity dimension captures the vibrancy or stillness individuals associate with a notion. It has a dualistic dimension of meaning that may be described as either swift, boisterous, or tame.

All social notions conjure images of goodness, strength, and life. In theory, these feelings are referred to as these emotional meanings. Sentiments are cross-situational, generic emotional reactions to well-known societal or subculture symbols. While all civilizations share the dimensions, symbolic feelings are a creation of a particular culture.

But emotions differ between cultures. So each culture has its own “dictionaries” that offer broad definitions based on average evaluation, potency, and activity ratings.

The most significant aspect of these evaluation, potency and activity profiles is that all of the components of social contact are represented using the same measure. ACT’s mathematical characterization of social interaction is made possible by this unifying measure.


After people characterize a social situation with names of cultural significance, the emotional meanings shift as social interaction progresses. The ACT predicts changes in the impressions of Actors, Behaviors, and Objects on evaluation, potency, and activity as a consequence of their combination in social events using a complete set of impression creation equations. These impression change equations are empirical descriptions of fundamental social and cultural phenomena when seen as a whole. They record crucial data regarding how social activities briefly alter the connotations of the symbolic labels we use to categorize occurrences. These equations provide the empirical foundation for ACT’s theoretical predictions and sentiment dictionaries.

Control Principle

The underlying, universal meanings we connect with social labels are sentiments. The momentary meanings that emerge through social contact are known as impressions. Humans may learn how effectively contemporary encounters confirm cultural norms by examining discrepancies between feelings and perceptions.

The foundation of symbolic interactionism is the idea that social actors try to preserve their operational conceptions of social contexts. Heise (1979) created a control system theory to represent this idea, influenced by Powers’ (1973) work on the perception control theory.

As part of the affect control principle, ACT suggests that actors attempt to have transient experiences compatible with their core beliefs.

ACT refers to deflection as the difference between underlying cultural feelings and fleeting situational sensations in the three-dimensional assessment, potency, and action area. The squared distance between the feelings and the impressions is used to operationalize deflection. This mathematical expression enables the affect control concept to be used by manipulating the impression change equations. These rewritten equations forecast the conduct that best upholds the actors’ and objects’ original cultural associations. An actor is supposed to devise a creative solution to fix the issue when an event upsets meanings by solving for the behavior profile.

Traits And Emotions

The impression change equations define how occurrences alter impressions. Finally, the behavioral prediction equations use the effect control concept to forecast how actors will respond in a circumstance with a particular specification.

Labeling equations explain how actors or objects could change as a consequence of interactions that are seen. Additionally, there are equations for attribution, which find characteristics that, when added to an identity, may explain observed actions, and equations for emotions, which predict the feelings that actors and objects would likely experience during social interaction.

These equations suggest, among other things, that the positivity of the fleeting image and the positivity of the deflection caused by that brief impression are predictive of the positivity of emotion. In other words, good things happen to us. People will feel better when things that are even better than their identities happen.

When circumstances affirm one’s identity, an actor’s pleasant feeling ought to correspond to the virtue of one’s core identity. Accordingly, the theory predicts that people who operate in “nicer” identities would feel good more often than those who operate in “scarier” identities. The equations show similar dynamics for potency and activity. Individuals feel more intense emotions when circumstances elevate them above what their identities justify. Similarly, individuals feel stimulated when events cause them to seem livelier than their identities justify.

According to ACT, an actor’s emotions will have around half the strength and activity of that actor’s primary identity in situations when precisely confirming events occur.

The Interact Project

The mathematical definition of ACT contains both its logic and its content. The empirically calculated equations include essential information regarding affective processing representing fundamental social and cultural processes of attribution, fairness, balance, and response to deviance. The theory’s logic is put into practice by manipulating these equations mathematically. Predictions concerning actions, feelings, and labels are produced as a result of these mathematical operations.

The equations and dictionaries of culturally distinct feelings are included in the Interact computer application. Researchers may consider the theory’s ramifications thanks to this program. Interact simulation findings may be interpreted as predictions of the theory and put to the test via practical study.


The ACT tradition has a substantial and expanding amount of empirical research. For example, recent research has emphasized comparing emotional dynamics across cultures. According to these findings, the emotional dynamics driving social interaction across cultures are similar.

However, the distinctions provide a mechanism to describe normative disparities across cultures. Empirical data provides predictions on how several empirical research supports the control process functions in social interaction. The theory makes predictions regarding the connections between identity and emotions, and many recent studies back up these predictions.

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