Affect control theory (ACT) is a mathematical theory of social interaction developed by David Heise in the 1970s. Based on symbolic interactionist ideas, ACT explains how interpersonal interactions are constrained by the symbolic culture contained in language and the meanings it associates with things. The theory describes how actors cognitively and affectively negotiate these cultural meanings to maintain a “working definition” of the situation. It also makes predictions about behaviors, emotions, and identity attributions that occur in culturally situated interactions. Thus affect control theory helps us understand both inter- and intragroup processes.

ACT proposes that interactions confirming cultural meanings require minimal cognitive processing because such situations feel normal and expected. In contrast, when an interaction does not confirm standard cultural meanings, people attempt to cognitively interpret ...

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