Emotion Display as a Strategy for Identity Negotiation

Robinson, Dawn T.; Smith-Lovin, Lynn
June 1999
Motivation & Emotion;Jun1999, Vol. 23 Issue 2, p73
Academic Journal
Affect control theory provides a formal model of emotions, behavior, and identity shifts during social interaction. According to the theory, emotions provide information about both the identity of an emoting actor and how well current social events are confirming that identity. Actors can avoid or mitigate identity damage resulting from inappropriate behaviors by displaying certain emotions (e.g. remorse). Alternately, actors can expose their identities to social damage by displaying inappropriate affect while behaving otherwise normatively. Here we present experimental tests of eight hypotheses based on affect control-based simulations. We find that (1) display of emotions that are affectively congruent with behaviors can reduce damage to identity from harmful behaviors; (2) display of evaluatively incongruent emotions can actually contribute to a spoiled identity, even in the context of socially positive behaviors; and (3) emotions that are evaluatively congruent with behaviors make actors seem more powerful. Respondents feel that they understand and like actors more when they display normative, affectively congruent emotions. These results are complicated somewhat by responses to the emotion of anger. One hypothesis�that low potency emotions will make actors seem more powerful�is not confirmed. We interpret these results and suggest avenues for future research.


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