The New Look

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The New Look

Kristen Mackie,  (Indiana University, 1996)


This emotional incident which I witnessed occurred between my grandparents while I was visiting them in Arizona for my spring break. My grandparents live in Tucson, Arizona, in a retirement community called ___. They live in a two-story house with access to 27 holes of golf, multiple tennis courts, a fitness center, and the main club house which has a dining hall and a small cafe. The upstairs of their house has two bedrooms and a bathroom which they call their guest suite. Therefore, this is where I unpacked my things. I have always enjoyed visiting my grandparents since I have a very close relationship with them both. They are very active and enjoy spending time with me. They have a great relationship with one another. One that I really admire. They are very respectful and supportive of one another. After being married for 46 years they still have the excitement needed to maintain a happy marriage. Throughout the years they have developed a very tight bond and strong love for one another and cannot imagine life without the other one around.

My grandpa, John ___, is 71 years old. He is a good looking man with white hair that is balding on the top of his head. He is very active and enjoys playing golf and tennis, both of which he plays on leagues at ___. He is also an active member in the ___ chorus, presently practicing for an upcoming recital. Before attending college, John went into the Navy at age 17 where spent three of his years. He then went on to the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago where he earned his Civil Engineering degree. Following college, John taught at Louisiana Tech in the engineering department. After teaching for a year he went on for his Masters in Sanitary Engineering at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Following completion of his Masters John decided to utilize his engineering degree to its fullest. He landed a job with Morrison and Knudsen, an industrial design company, where he helped design and build industrial buildings. At age 65 John decided to retire.

My grandma, Anita ___, is 75 years old. She is a good looking woman with short, blond curly hair. My grandma is also very active and enjoys playing golf and tennis. She too plays on leagues at ___ for both sports. Anita spent one year at Madison College in Harrisburg, Virginia, where she took several business courses. After completing her only year in college she held various secretarial jobs for the next ten years. She quit working when she married John.

John and Anita met in 1949 while singing in the church choir and were married the following year. They share the same values, likes/dislikes, and tastes. Therefore, they have had a very strong and happy marriage throughout the 46 years.

The following transcription occurred between my grandparents when my grandpa decided to try a "new" look. On Sunday morning as my grandma and I were sitting at the breakfast table reading the newspaper, my grandpa entered the kitchen looking completely different. He had secretly ordered a hairpiece and decided to surprise my grandma. When he walked into the kitchen he greeted us as he normally does, with a chipper hello, only this time he approached the breakfast table with what my grandma describes as a "Cheshire cat smile" on his face. When my grandma looked up from her paper she immediately noticed the change in my grandpa's appearance. Her first reaction to his hairpiece was extreme laughter. My grandpa's face turned bright red with anger as he proceeded to rip off his hairpiece and storm out of the kitchen. After seeing how upset my grandpa was, my grandma realized what she had done and went chasing after him to apologize.

Scene: My grandparent's kitchen

Participants: Anita (A), John (J), and Kristen (K)

Transcription Description
  A and K are sitting at the table in the kitchen reading the newspaper. J enters the kitchen with a large grin on his face, walking upright and proud. J has hairpiece on his head.
J-A/K: "Good morning ladies, anything exciting in the paper this morning?" J has big smile on his face and a very chipper attitude. [J feels very confident and happy with his "new" look.]
A-J: (laughing hysterically) A looks up at J. A laughs hysterically after looking up and seeing J's hairpiece. A puts hand over her mouth to try and control her outburst of laughter. [A was shocked by J's "new" look and that is what triggered her laughter.]
J-A: "Oh, damn it!" J's face is bright red and has an angry tone of voice. He rips off his hairpiece and storms out of the kitchen grumbling. [J felt very embarrassed and also furious with A for reacting the way she did. He was hoping she would react by complementing his "new" look.]
A-K: "I really put my foot in my mouth." A looks at K with guilty look. [A feels bad for hurting J's feelings.]
A-J: "I'm sorry, I'm sorry. You just shocked me!" A calls after J trying to apologize as J storms off into the bedroom. A runs after J into the bedroom
J-A: "That was very uncalled for and extremely rude." As A enters the bedroom J is standing in front of the mirror. J's face is still red with anger. J also has a frown on his face. [J is still disappointed and hurt by A's reaction.]
A-J: "It was just such a shock, I didn't mean to react the way I did. Let me look at you again. I promise, I won't laugh this time." A has apologetic look on her face. A tries to get J to let her look at his hairpiece another time. [A is now prepared to see a change in her husband's appearance.]
J-A: "I don't care if it was a shock or not, it was still rude and you hurt my feelings. I thought you'd be so excited, I did it for you! Don't you know how much this cost me?" J has a raised tone of voice. A stands in front of J with a sad look. [A felt terrible and very small when J told her he got the hairpiece to impress her.]
A-J: "I'm sorry John, I really didn't mean to react that way. It just happened. I do like your hairpiece. It looks very nice on you." A has pleading look on her face and apologetic tone in her voice Her voice is very quiet and soft [A really does like J's hairpiece and feels awful about what she did. She is worried that J won't think she is sincere.]
J-A: "Do you really like it or are you just saying that to make me feel better?" J has lowered his voice and is now losing the redness in his face. J has questioning look on his face. [J wonders if A is sincere or if she is just saying she likes his hairpiece to be nice.] [A truly likes J's hairpiece and hopes he takes her compliment seriously.]
A-J: "Yes, I really do like it. It makes you look very handsome, much younger." A has wide grin on her face. Her face lights up. A gives J a kiss on his cheek. J blushes and smiles at A. [J realizes that A is sincere about liking his "new" look.]
J-A: "Thanks, you know your opinion means a lot to me." J has smile on his face. [J feels much better about his hairpiece.]


John and Anita were able to reconcile and went on with the rest of their day. Anita continued to compliment John on his hairpiece and reassure him that it really did look very nice on him.

Definitions of the situation

During the incident Anita was feeling very guilty and small since she unintentionally hurt John's feelings. She was sorry she reacted the way she did but there was nothing she could do to go back and change what had happened. Since Anita was taken by surprise she said she was unprepared for John's "new" look. She didn't have time to prepare herself to see John in a different way. She felt out of control in the situation. After twenty years seeing John without any hair on the top of his head, Anita said that she was so used to John without hair that his hairpiece totally changed what he looked like. Anita also said that she loves John for who he is, not what he looks like, and he should know that. She thought that her laughter may have been a subconscious reaction because John should know that he doesn't have to change his looks for her.

Anita viewed John during the incident as taking advantage of her by putting her in a position she was not prepared for. She also felt that John overreacted when he stormed out of the kitchen. She said he reacted hastily and did not give her a chance to adjust to his "new" look. He should have considered how shocked she would be and should have at least warned her about what he was doing. Anita feels that John was unfair in his actions and should have realized that he might not get the response he was expecting or wanting because he took her by surprise.

John, on the other hand, viewed himself during the incident as being humiliated and belittled. He was very excited to share his new appearance with his wife but was very hurt by her reaction. He said that he walked into the kitchen feeling proud and self-confident, but ended up leaving the room feeling angry and rejected.

John's view of Anita during the incident was that she had total control. Her reaction would determine how John would feel about his new hairpiece. H also felt that her reaction was totally uncalled for and she should have been more considerate of his feelings. However, John realizes that Anita's reaction was due to the fact that she was completely taken by surprise. He knows that Anita didn't laugh at his "new" look to hurt his feelings and, therefore, he didn't see her as being spiteful. He compared Anita to a judge and himself to the defendant since he viewed the situation as a trial for his "new" look. When Anita laughed at his hairpiece he felt that he was being denied the support he needed in order to feel confident about changing his appearance.

John's view of Anita was one of a judge making an important decision regarding his appearance. Therefore, John saw Anita as having complete control of the situation and its outcome. Anita, on the other hand, viewed herself as being out of control because she was taken completely by surprise. My view of the situation was that both John and Anita were put in vulnerable positions, therefore, neither one of them had complete control. Where John saw Anita as being a judge of his hairpiece, I saw her as merely being a witness to his new appearance. Also, Anita saw John's anger as an over reaction, whereas John contrastly saw himself as reacting in a way that was appropriate for the way he was made to feel. In this situation I feel that John's anger and feelings of humiliation were justified and that Anita's laughter was out of line. Although Anita was caught off guard, her reaction to John's hairpiece should have been more controlled as well as supportive. Both John and Anita saw themselves as being partially at fault for the incident and were therefore able to reconcile.


Before the interaction began, my grandparents viewed themselves as spouses on equal levels in terms of power and status. [Heise: husband and wife might be better.] My grandpa viewed them both as 1.82, .87, .72 on the EPA profile while my grandma saw them both as 1.96, 1.23, 1.04. However, their power and status changed throughout their interaction.

In the initial scene, from my grandpa's point of view, when my grandma laughed at his hairpiece, Interact describes her using EPA profiles as being somewhat bad (-1.43). It also shows that my grandma was not very powerful (-.87) and not very active (.80) during the initial interaction. My grandpa was described as being less bad than my grandma (-.20 vs. -1.43) from his point of view. This would make sense because my grandpa was hurt by my grandma's laughter and, therefore, viewed her as being more bad than himself since he didn't feel he did anything wrong.

From my grandma's point of view, she was feeling terrified, petrified, and tormented (-1.41, -1.65, .52) which caused my grandpa to feel nervous, embarrassed, and frustrated (-.75, -1.04, .41). Being completely shocked by the situation, my grandma felt quite powerless (-1.41). She viewed my grandpa as being in control of the situation. Therefore, he was seen as having more power. However, Interact predicted that my grandpa (-1.04) was actually less powerful than my grandma. This I think is more accurate because my grandpa stated that he felt completely powerless when my grandma laughed at him.

Normal vs. Abnormal event

The two events that I chose to compare were the unlikely event that my grandpa would leave my grandma and the likely event that my grandpa would forgive my grandma. In the unlikely event, Interact stated that this seems remarkable for my grandma and the deflection was 6.25. In the likely event, where my grandpa forgives my grandma, Interact stated that this seems familiar for my grandma with a deflection number of 4.35. This seems very accurate because it should be a common response for my grandpa to forgive my grandma. The abnormality in the event of my grandpa leaving my grandma doesn't seem to confirm their identities. Since this is not a common reaction of my grandpa it doesn't confirm his identity as the spouse that my grandma knows him as. However, the expected event does reflect roles corresponding to my grandparents. By forgiving my grandma for her outburst, my grandpa is confirming his identity as a forgiving and caring spouse.

Here are the important events in a simplified form:


My impression of this action is that both my grandma and grandpa were feeling uneasy in their initial confrontation with each other when my grandpa put on his hairpiece. The Interact interpretation of my grandma laughing at my grandpa confirms my impression and accurately describes the emotions each were feeling.

The likelihood of my grandma laughing at my grandpa is very unlikely from both my grandma's point of view of the situation as well as my grandpa's, with a high deflection number of 14.65 and 11.17 respectively. This is not surprising because a husband and wife should compliment one another, not ridicule them (MacKinnon, 101).

In this situation my grandma lost control of her expressions. She was caught out of face because she had not expected to be thrust into interaction. According to Goffman, my grandparents then found themselves in an encounter that was expressively incompatible with the judgments of social worth that were being maintained, and since the event was difficult to overlook, they gave it accredited status as an incident-to ratify it as a threat that deserves direct official attention-and to proceed to try to correct for its effects" (On Face-Work, 19).

Goffman also states that a person who senses they are out-of-face is likely to feel ashamed and inferior because of what happened to the activity on their account (On Face-Work, 8). This is exactly how my grandma described her feelings. She was ashamed with how she reacted.

My grandpa's emotions at this time were described as embarrassed, frustrated, shocked, and overwhelmed. These are all reasonable emotions for my grandpa to be feeling since his wife had laughed at his "new" look instead of offering her support. Interact says that my grandpa was feeling slightly bad about my grandma laughing at him (-.20), not very powerful (-.72), and not very active (-.32). It shows that my grandpa's optimal response would be to fondle, caress, or compliment my grandma. These are all opposite of what my grandpa actually did. He was furious with her for laughing at him and stormed out of the room to get away from her. Interact also shows my grandpa as seeing my grandma as being very rude, unsportsmanlike, and obnoxious. This, on the other hand, is very accurate. My grandpa told my grandma that her laughter was uncalled for. At this point my grandpa was seeing my grandma as very bad (-2.89), very powerless (-2.64), and somewhat active (1.48). The only thing that differs from what my grandpa was really feeling is in terms of my grandma's perceived power. He saw my grandma as being powerful because he felt she was completely in control of the situation.

My grandpa was also feeling out-of-face, according to Goffman, which explains his feelings of inferiority and embarrassment when my grandma laughed at him.

My grandma's emotions at this time were described as desperate, tormented, cynical, terrified, and petrified. Although I don't feel that all of these emotions are a reasonable match to what my grandma was really feeling, I think that both terrified and petrified could be seen as more reasonable. My grandma was shocked when my grandpa entered the room looking completely different. Therefore, there could have been an initial sense of extreme fear when she first looked at him.

According to Interact, when my grandma laughed at my grandpa's hairpiece, she was feeling quite bad (-1.41), quite powerless (-1.65), and slightly active (.52). This is very accurate because my grandma felt very bad for laughing but felt out of control of the situation (= powerless) because my grandpa had taken her by surprise. The optimal behavior described of my grandma was not very accurate according to what actually happened. Interact predicted she would make love to, save, or hug my grandpa. In another situation these may be more appropriate.


For both my grandma and grandpa this action is very unlikely, with high deflection numbers of 16.32 and 14.76 respectively. When my grandpa went storming out of the room he gave my grandma the impression that he was both angry and confused. He wasn't sure why my grandma laughed at him but he knew he was very angry at her.

Interact says that when my grandpa left he was feeling jealous, scared, and disturbed (-1.37, -.83, .22). My grandpa was probably feeling scared and disturbed but jealous doesn't seem to fit with the context. He was scared by my grandma's reaction and disturbed that he didn't get the response he was expecting.

In terms of my grandma, Interact says that when my grandpa left she was feeling petrified, terrified, let down, and horrified (-1.61, -2.18, .21). I believe that she could have felt any one of these emotions. She could have felt an enormous amount of fear when her husband stormed out of the room because she may have thought she had hurt his feelings so bad he might not forgive her. She could have also felt let down because her husband had reacted in such a surprisingly negative way.

In terms of the behaviors Interact predicted for my grandparents, they are not very close to what actually happened. After my grandpa left the room, Interact predicted he would fondle, caress, or compliment my grandma. In actuality, he was so mad at her he tried to ignore her.


The likelihood of this event occurring should be very high, however, Interact shows that for both my grandma and grandpa (10.59 and 11.21) this event is unlikely.

At this time, Interact says that my grandpa was feeling slightly bad (-.62), slightly powerless (-.45), and pretty neutral in activity level (.02). The emotions associated with these feelings were described as frightened, frustrated, and scared. I think Interact is pretty accurate in how my grandpa was feeling. He was frightened by my grandma's apology because he was unsure if it was sincere. His frustration was a result of his extreme anger still lingering. Since my grandpa would not admit his fear in this situation, he redirected this emotion through his display of extreme anger at my grandma.

For my grandma, Interact says that when she was apologizing to my grandpa she was feeling lovesick, flustered, and nervous (-.33, -1.01, .29). These are all very common feelings of a person who is asking for forgiveness from someone else. My grandma was very nervous and flustered that my grandpa would not accept her apology.

Interact also verified my grandma's sense of sincerity when apologizing to my grandpa. It predicted she would be complementing, caressing, and encouraging him. She was in fact doing these things in order to make him feel better. Perhaps at this time my grandma was trying to save my grandpa's face. Goffman states that "each person will have two points of view- a defensive orientation toward saving his own face and a protective orientation toward saving the face of others" (On Face-Work, 14). While my grandma was trying to save her face by apologizing to my grandpa, she was also trying to save his face by reassuring him that her apology was sincere and that she truly liked his "new" look.


Once again, this event should be very likely, however, Interact still shows a somewhat high deflection number for my grandma (7.79) and grandpa (9.48). This event was portrayed as being more likely than my grandma apologizing to my grandpa. In reality, both events should be very likely within a good relationship.

During this event, Interact describes my grandma as feeling moved, at-ease, and calm (.86, .44, -.06). These are all very accurate descriptions of my grandma's emotions. She was relieved when my grandpa accepted her apology and was feeling much better about the situation. When my grandpa forgave her, my grandma gave him a big hug and kiss. Interact accurately predicted this behavior from my grandma by stating that she would likely caress, fondle, or kiss my grandpa.

Interact described my grandpa as feeling no emotion, melancholy, and calm. Although I wouldn't say he was feeling no emotion, I would say that the other two emotions are quite accurate. Since the height of the incident had passed and my grandma had apologized, my grandpa was able to cool down and accept my grandma's apology. My grandpa also reacted in the same way by returning a kiss and hug to my grandma which Interact had predicted.

Interact's predictions of my grandparents emotions and behaviors was very close to the observations I made. For the most part, Interact accurately pinpointed each emotion my grandparents felt during the sequence of events. It was amazing to see how I could type in a few key words and Interact could tell me exactly what I witnessed.


A reidentification may have occurred from my grandma's point of view when my grandpa stormed out of the room. Since this is not a normal behavior for my grandpa (her spouse), she may have viewed him in a different way at that moment. According to Interact my grandma could have viewed my grandpa's actions as those of a hermit. However, the likelihood of even a hermit storming out of the room was very unlikely, with a high deflection number of 16.75. According to Interact there was not much difference between my grandpa's feelings and behaviors from those of a hermit in the same situation.

According to Affect Control Theory, my grandpa's display of inappropriate emotions, from my grandma's point of view, suggests that he was maintaining an identity other than his original one (husband). Therefore, it also states that my grandma's identity was challenged as well since the inappropriate emotions were directed at her (MacKinnon, 169).

My opinion regarding this situation is that since my grandparents have been married for so long, chances are my grandma didn't experience this sense of reidentification of my grandpa. Most likely she realized he was very angry and hurt and still viewed him as the same person (husband/spouse).


According to Affect Control Theory, events create impressions of the people involved in them. Therefore, our feelings about a person before an event somewhat control our feelings about a person after an event. Affect Control Theory would say that the emotions felt by my grandparents were "episodic, situationally instigated, ephemeral affective experiences with physiological and cognitive components" (MacKinnon, 31). My grandparents, on the other hand, would view their emotions in a simpler way, such as a reaction to a disturbing situation. They would also have seen their emotions as part of their personality and an expression of their feelings. Their emotions triggered the results of the incident; laughter lead to anger which caused them to quarrel with one another.

Affect Control Theory also states that in the course of validating social identities, people engage in role-appropriate acts (MacKinnon, 39). Thus, my grandpa was engaging in a role-appropriate act for someone who had just been humiliated, by storming out of the room. However, my grandma viewed this response as inappropriate and irrational. She felt he overreacted and didn't give her a chance to adjust to his "new" look.

Another principle held by Affect Control Theory that differs from my grandparents understanding is in terms of derogation to the victim. When we find ourselves in a confrontation with someone else who we see as being at fault, we tend to put all the blame on them and none on ourselves. Therefore, we see them as being wrong, or bad, for what they did to us. This would be how my grandpa viewed my grandma when she laughed at him. He viewed her as being the bad person in the situation and himself as being good. However, Affect Control Theory would say that although my grandma was laughing at my grandpa, my grandpa was still made to look bad because he was part of the interaction.

In terms of behavior, an understanding of events based on Affect Control Theory once again differs from my grandparents understanding. After an interaction, people are inclined to rationalize their behavior or give reasons for the sequence of events. Therefore, people often justify why they acted in a certain way. For example, my grandpa rationalized his storming out of the room by saying that my grandma caused his behavior because she laughed at him. From my grandpa's point of view, his storming out of the room was a reasoned sequence of events. My grandma's laugher, or mocking, lead to my grandpa's anger, which then lead to his storming out of the room, and was therefore seen as reasoned. In contrast, Affect Control Theory would say that a lot of the things we do are not reasoned at all. Therefore, the theory would argue that my grandpa's reaction was not a reasoned behavior.

Affect Control Theory has both strengths and weaknesses in its attempt to understand interactions. One of its strengths lies in its proposition that "people construct social events to confirm the affective meaning of their situated identities and those of other actors; and when events occur that strain these sentiments, people initiate restorative actions and cognitive revisions to bring disturbing events back in line (MacKinnon, 4). By viewing interactions from this approach, it is much easier to understand why people do the things they do. Affect Control Theory puts events into perspective and allows people to get a better understanding of what is going on in the minds of others. Another strength of Affect Control Theory is in its theory of expressive order. The theory of expressive order defines the boundaries of actions in terms of what actors should and should not do in given situations. The theory strongly determines what actors should not do, but only weakly determines what they should do. This means that behaviors or emotions that go beyond the boundaries are inappropriate for the situation and/or the actors and would be unacceptable and create too much deflection. When using Interact, the behaviors and emotions that exceed the boundaries do not even show up as possibilities. Yet another strength of Affect Control Theory is that it explains the reason power plays and negotiations arise between individuals. It states that people try to implement an identity in a situation that is at odds with those reinforced by others (MacKinnon, 95). This helps us understand the reasons for confrontations between individuals. A strength that I found of Affect Control Theory regarding my paper was that it was very accurate at pinpointing the emotions and behaviors of my grandparents. There were a few instances where the predictions were off base, but for the most part they were quite accurate. I found it amazing that it could make such accurate predictions given so little information.

A weakness of Affect Control Theory can be seen in its theory of expressive order. Although this is one of its strengths because it can tell us a lot about what could happen in society, it cannot tell us what will happen. This means that it can tell us possible emotions or actions that could occur, but it cannot tell us what order they will occur in or if they will actually occur at all. Therefore, the theory cannot give us the logical sequence of events and/or emotions within an interaction. Another weakness of Affect Control Theory is that it "assumes that people universally agree on the relevant dimensions for assessing acts (evaluation, potency, and activity), and that people within a culture or subculture agree on the approximate positions of acts on these dimensions" (MacKinnon, 95). However, with society being so diverse, it is hard to assume that even people in the same subculture share the same sentiments. Within our own culture we have criminals, bums, poor people, rich people, etc. We can't possibly assume that each group would assess a situation in the same way. For example, a criminal may rate stealing as quite a bit lower on the potency scale than a wealthy person who is a victim of the crime. Therefore, although they experience the same culture, by living in the U.S., they don't share the same views. A final weakness that I found with Affect Control Theory was that it can come up with emotions and actions that are inappropriate for given situations. Although it can come up with a lot of actions and emotions, it doesn't do much good if they can't be applied to the interaction.




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