Defining the criminal situation: An affect control explanation of construals.
Committee ChairSmith-Lovin, Lynn
MetadataShow full item record
PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractThe definition of the situation is important to observers in everyday social interaction. From the identity of the social actor, the observer attempts to fill in details about the situation. From this "going beyond the information given", the observer defines the situation. The definition then allows the observer to make predictions about the social actor and the situation. Going beyond the information given is referred to as a situational construal (Dunning 1989). The individual forms a concrete image of the situation, resolving ambiguities through construals. However, a still unanswered question has remained: What determines the construals? In this study, affect and construals are linked together. Through the identity of the actor, affect can be linked to expectations, which are used to fill in information. Affect control theory is one theory linking affect to other elements of the situation, such as the relationships between identity, behavior and emotion. The observer has stored knowledge linking identities with affective meanings that generate role behaviors in specific situations, associating identity with specific behavioral expectations. Emotion displays assist the observer in inferring the identities of social actors. One specific situation in which affect and construals are evident is the criminal situation. The criminal situation has ambiguities for which decisions must be made by various observers throughout the criminal justice process. In this study, affect control theory's application to the criminal justice system focuses on inferences made during a probation officer's presentence report, specifically the recommended sentence. Probation officers and undergraduate students respond to vignettes of a criminal situation. In Study 1, undergraduates, after reading a presentence report with criminal and victim statements, assign punishment and answer questions regarding the criminal case. Study 2 replicates Study 1 with probation officers. Study 3 further tests the influence of knowledge structures on construals. Results demonstrate a link between identity and construals. Results answer questions about how the probation officer resolves ambiguities in reaching a recommended sentence. The influence of various knowledge structures is also demonstrated. The cognitive process model applied to the probation officers and the students can be generalized to observers of other situations. One explanation of situational construal is demonstrated.