Graphing a Social Situation and its Affect

Because Interact relies on ACT's equations and numerical data (which we translate in to words), intuitions about a scene can actually be graphed. It is worth doing this in order to get a better sense of how Interact works.

 Here's an incident to consider.

Janet's boyfriend argues with her and leaves, so Janet feels sick-at-heart as Mary arrives. Mary, being a friend, comforts Janet. Janet sighs and cracks a joke.

This is a hypothetical happening, but I have set it up to correspond to a laboratory experiment which was designed to test the theory behind Interact. In the experiment, a subject was made to feel down (sick-at-heart,  deflated) by an interaction with a nasty secretary - really an actress hired for the experiment, and then the subject had to interact with another actor who had been introduced as a fellow student. The experiment showed that people who are feeling down about something pull out of their gloom and act pleasant when they are with someone they value - like a fellow student, though they don't do this when they are with someone they don't value - such as the same actor described as a "delinquent."

The accompanying graph represents the situation for Janet and Mary.

Measurements in the vertical direction represent Evaluation, and measurements in the horizontal direction represent Activity; we'll forget about Potency for now, because Evaluation and Activity are the interesting measures in this case.

Janet, in her identity as a "woman", appears in the middle right section of the graph - evaluation of 1.7 and activity of 0.9. Mary, as a "friend", appears at the top of the chart - evaluation of 3.5 and activity 0.3.

Janet after her argument with her boyfriend is "sick-at-heart", and thereby is not nearly so nice and lively as a woman ordinarily is. In fact, if we had people rate "a woman who is sick-at-heart" the evaluation and activity ratings would average out to barely positive on both measures. Thus Janet's transient state is represented on the graph at the bottom middle.

At that point Mary comforts Janet. As you can see on the graph, the act of comforting is rated as extremely good and a little quiet. In fact, comforting is a bit more good and more quiet than the usual acts of a friend to a woman (like "please" or "cheer"), and that reflects Mary's response to Janet's negative condition. Mary has to act especially nice and quiet in order to improve Janet's mood and in order to maintain her own self-esteem while dealing with a gloomy woman.

After Mary's comforting, we get Janet's response to being comforted. The comforting worked a little because Janet has moved up on the graph to a slightly better state, from being a "sick-at-heart woman" to being a "melancholy woman." Janet is still not cheerful like a woman should be, but she is a bit better off than before.

Janet engages in one of her predicted behaviors toward Mary at this point: amuse. As you see on the graph, amusing someone is quite a nice act and lively. In fact, Janet now is trying to act nicer than usual toward her friend because that is a way of pulling herself out of her negative emotion: Janet amuses her friend even as she herself feels melancholy in an effort to restore her own usual cheerfulness. She also is acting nice in order to maintain the goodness of her friend.

The tactic partially works. After amusing Mary, Janet's emotional state has improved again, up to feeling "relieved."

Janet and Mary would have to go through a few more rounds of interaction before any consequences of the emotion produced by the incident between Janet and her boyfriend were gone. Moreover, once she stops interacting with Mary, Janet might recall the incident with her boyfriend and return to feeling sick at heart.



Note. From David R. Heise and Elsa Lewis, Introduction to Interact, documentation for programs Interact, Tech, and Attitude, distributed by Wm. C. Brown Publishers, Dubuque, Iowa 1988-1993.