Explaining Variance in Affect Control Theory: Cultural Consensus, Deflection, and Redefinition

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2018

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Abstract

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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Curdy, Brent Harrison (2018). Explaining Variance in Affect Control Theory: Cultural Consensus, Deflection, and Redefinition. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/16952.

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