Explaining Variance in Affect Control Theory: Cultural Consensus, Deflection, and Redefinition
Affect Control Theory (ACT) conceives of affective sentiments as shared
meanings among individuals within a single culture. Recognizing the theory's potential
to explain cultural differences and behavior patterns, many researchers aim to test and
apply ACT's insights to within- and across-culture analysis. The growth of the theory's
popularity necessitates a review and exposition of the theory's fundamental
methodological assumptions and its causal mechanism, deflection. Using data from the
2003 Indiana EPA dictionary, I map the distribution of fundamental U.S. sentiments in
EPA space, define two new conceptions of deflection, map the universe of event
currently measureable deflections, and discuss the ramifications of these findings for
past and future research.
I critique ACT's operationalization of "shared meaning" as mean point estimates
calculated from individuals' numeric ratings on semantic differential scales. Past
research attributes variation in concept ratings to two sources: unsystematic error in the
measurement tool and imperfect cultural inculcation among respondents. By taking a
concept-focused approach, I show that variation between respondents is structured by
the institutional affiliation of identity concepts and concept labels' word difficulty. This
pattern exists even when controlling for individual-level characteristics, the traditionally
ascribed reason for variation in concept ratings.
I replicate a well-known ACT study that found support for the dynamic behavior
redefinition hypothesis and did not find support for ACT's redefinition hypothesis. I
make the design more robust and test both the original findings and my claims about
the role of institutions in ACT. I find support for the dynamic behavior hypothesis,
partial support for the ACT hypothesis, and support for the claim that individuals
depend on institutional information inherent in identity meanings.
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