2012. Vol.3, No.8, 569-577
Published Online August 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 569
The Role of Affects in Culture-Based Interventions: Implications
for Practice
Terri Mannarini*, Enrico Ciavolino, Mariangela Nitti, Sergio Salvatore
Department of History, Society and Human Studies, University of Salento, Lecce, Italy
Email: *
Received May 5th, 2012; revised June 7th, 2012; accepted July 10th, 2012
The study aimed to show the relevance of two types of sense-making processes (i.e. cognitive and affec-
tive) in culture-based interventions. A hierarchical model based on a psychodynamic theoretical frame-
work was tested. According to this model, a generalized affective meaning connoting the whole field of
participants’ experience would have a regulative, downward, and causal influence on the specific mean-
ings related to the issues addressed by the intervention. Secondary analyses—namely PLS Path Modeling
with higher order constructs—were performed on a dataset resulting from a survey involving three hun-
dred and ninety freshmen enrolled in a psychology course at the University of Salento, Italy. These
analyses were aimed at detecting the anticipatory images of the University. Our findings provide evidence
supporting the theoretical model proposed. Implications for culture-based interventions are discussed.
Keywords: Cultural-Based Intervention; Affective Semiosis; PLS Path Modeling
In the development of a theoretical framework for psychoso-
cial interventions, and the implementation of such interventions,
many psychologists have mainly based their proposals on the
ecological perspective, which was developed in previous dec-
ades by scholars such as Kelly (1966, 1987, 2006). This eco-
logical approach has enabled psychologists to address major
concerns of the field, such as detecting how social systems
influence the life of individuals and communities, and how to
change these systems so as to increase people’s well-being
(Hirsch, Levine, & Miller, 2007). In striving to overcome the
limitations of individual-level theorizing, the ecological model
adopts a systemic view, emphasizing the relevance of linkages
and interactions among the parts of the system, as well as its
dynamic and constantly changing nature. In addressing the
individual-environment relationship, a basic tenet of the eco-
logical perspective is that “the theory driving the intervention is
about the dynamics of the context or system, not the psyche or
attributes of the individuals within it” (Hawe, Shiell, & Riley,
2009: p. 269).
Within the ecological paradigm, multilevel interventions
have recently gained momentum, as illustrated by the 2009
special issue of the American Journal of Community Psychol-
ogy, edited by Jean J. Schensul and Edison Trickett. This mul-
tilevel concept can be traced back to Bronfenbrenner (1979),
who identified four interconnected systems that frame all hu-
man transactions and influence human behavior: the microsys-
tem, mesosystem, exosystem, and the macrosystem, which
together make up the ecosystem. Each of these systems affects
a variety of aspects of individual and community life, thereby
contributing to the well-being and disease of individuals and
groups. From this perspective, the rationale behind multilevel
interventions is that changes need to be made both at the level
of individuals, and of the social context in which they reside.
Nevertheless, among interventions couched in the ecological
perspective, there is still considerable variation in empirical
results achieved. This variation can be parsed by identifying
two broad theoretical categories of interventions: those empha-
sizing the impact of changes in the context surrounding the
individual (environment-based), and those emphasizing the
relevance of sociocultural processes in changing systems (cul-
An example of environment-based interventions is STEP (the
School Transitional Environment Project) (Felner & Adam,
1988; Felner, Favazza, Shim, Brand, Gu, & Noonan, 2001). STEP
seeks to facilitate the transition from elementary to junior high
school by modifying specic elements of the school context.
More specifically, STEP seeks to accomplish the following
goals: 1) create smaller learning environments and provide a
stable set of peers to increase the student’s sense of connected-
ness, thereby reducing the degree of complexity that the student
entering junior high confronts; and 2) restructure the roles of
homeroom teachers so that they provide greater support for
entering students. Findings from STEP showed that modifica-
tions in the school context helped students to cope with transi-
tional requirements. Nevertheless, it was acknowledged that
such changes were “necessary, but certainly not sufcient, ele-
ments to obtain the gains in achievement and performance that
were above those levels at which the student entered” (Felner et
al., 2001: p. 189).
Interventions in the culture-based category are sensitive to
the cultural nature of context and emphasize the need for ob-
taining local knowledge and community involvement in the
whole process of the intervention (i.e., development, imple-
mentation, and analysis) (Schensul, 2005), according to a col-
laborative and participatory pattern. Interventions of this cate-
gory aim to change the system under scrutiny by mobilizing
internal resources. Local knowledge, which can be defined as
the local culture of individuals and groups, plays a central role
*Corresponding author.
among these internal resources. Following Trickett (2009), the
concept of (local) culture can be defined as “the broad cultural
history of community groups as reflected in local contexts that
specify how that history is expressed in local settings, relation-
ships with cultural outsiders, and the definition of community
issues to be solved” (p. 259). Hence, local culture can be re-
garded as the outcome and the process of sense-making by
which people come to be able to think or communicate about
their experience and assign it meaning, value, and relationships
to other events. Culture-based interventions compensate for the
lack of emphasis put on the role of extra-subjective factors by
increasing interventionists’ awareness of the sense-making
processes that mediate the relationship between the individuals
and the context (either physical, social, and symbolic) they are
embedded in, or, alternately phrased, the local dynamics of
meaning construction.
In the current paper, the authors argue that culture-based in-
terventions have paid much more attention to the cognitive,
rather than the affective, processes of sense-making. This is
true even within the socio-cultural as well as within the dia-
logical vision of sense-making (Salgado & Clegg, 2011; Valsi-
ner & Rosa, 2007). Further, the authors argue that the lack of
recognition of the role of affects in sense-making has led re-
searchers and practitioners to focus exclusively on the mean-
ings related to the specific objects1 addressed from time to time
by single interventions, and this has shaped the resulting inter-
ventions accordingly. However, from a psychodynamic per-
spective, there is evidence that sense-making also entails the
construction of generalized meanings that, though distinct from
the specific objects about which individuals are stimulated to
verbalize, drive and rule the way the same individuals perceive
and represent such objects (Salvatore & Freda, 2011; Cabell &
Valsiner, in press). The aim of the current paper is to test a
model based on a psychodynamic theoretical framework that
shows the relevance of such generalized meanings and their
relationship to object-specific meanings. Firstly, readers are
provided with an overview of the theoretical framework under-
lying the model and then with the discussion of relevant pieces
of evidence. Next, a statistical formalization of the model is
illustrated. Finally, implications for culture-based interventions
are highlighted.
The Theoretical Framework: Affect and
As stated above, the concept of local culture was defined as
the process and the outcome of sense-making. Signs are mobi-
lized by people as they engage in activities that require inter-
subjective engagement. Hence, sense-making is intrinsically
dialogical. It is argued that a core component of sense-making
is the affective nature of our experience. Authors have exten-
sively elaborated on this dynamic—referred to as affective
semiosis—elsewhere (Salvatore & Freda, 2011; Salvatore &
Zittoun, 2010), so only the basic tenets will be recapitulated
In this paper, the notion of affect is defined in psycho-
dynamic and semiotic terms (Salvatore & Zittoun, 2011)—that
is, as a process of connotation of the object that motivates a
specific disposition to act. According to psychoanalytic theory
(Freud, 1933[1932], 1964; see also Bucci, 1997; Matte Blanco,
1975), the affective connotation is the product of a kind of
thinking characterized by the predominance of the primary
process. The primary process is the way the mind’s functioning
orients toward homogenizing and generalizing the objects of
experience. Insofar as the primary process is predominant in a
person’s way of thinking, that person does not experience the
discrete objects in their singularity and semantic specificity;
rather, the objects are interpreted as the generalized class they
belong to, as merged with the whole they are part of.
Psychoanalytic theory does not consider the primary process
as being opposed to the secondary process (the secondary
process is logical, rational thinking, which is centered on the
identification of the differences among the elements and con-
strained by their semantic specificity). Rather, primary and
secondary processes are seen as complementary. The secondary
process works in terms of setting categorical distinctions—
relationships within the homogenizing way of functioning of
the primary process. Thus, the primary and the secondary proc-
esses are two coextensive mental functions: every psychologi-
cal process is the output emerging from their interaction, and
therefore, thinking is always a mixture of both.
The psychodynamic idea that basic meanings emerge from
the encounter between conscious and unconscious dynamics
provides a meaningful way of modeling affects. On this basis, it
was proposed to define affects as hypergeneralized and ho-
mogenized meanings. Generalization is the process through
which individuals and groups recognize an object, not for its
distinctiveness and uniqueness, but as correspondent to the
whole class of objects that are associable with it—i.e. the
motherness rather than the mother. Examples of generalization
are numerous: consider the awe one can feel in front of a supe-
rior or another figure with some authority (a teacher, a police-
men, an elderly relative etc.). Such a feeling cannot be related
to the actual attitude and power of the figure; rather, these emo-
tions reflect a meaning that individuals attribute to the general-
ized class of the authoritative and powerful figures they identify
their interlocutor with, rather than to the specific person. Inter-
woven with generalization is homogenization; if every object of
the class is the class itself, all the qualities and characteristics of
the class are attributed to the single object. As a consequence,
every object is made identical—homogenized—to every other
object that belongs to the same class. Stereotypic thought evi-
dently shows hints of the affective mechanism discussed. All
the objects that are projected in the stereotypical class are con-
fused with each other, regardless of their individual specificity,
and treated according to all the properties associated with the
As a consequence of (hyper)generalization and homogeniza-
tion, the reference of the affective semiosis is never a discrete
object1 (i.e. a person, an event, a thing), but the relationship
between the subject and the object. More precisely, the content
is not even the relationship as a discrete “thing”; rather, it is the
whole subjective field of experience associated with the prac-
tice of the situated encounter with the world. One can pick up a
hint of this level of experience when a new situation is encoun-
tered. In those circumstances, sometimes one can experience
the situation as something endowed of global value (as threat-
ening, warm, distancing), before differentiating the experi-
ence through a specific attentive focus. Such an affective ex-
1Here and henceforth the term “object” is used in broad sense, fo
denoting any kind of discrete pattern of experience—e.g. a person, a
things, an event, as well as an institution, an element of the social o
hysical environment, and so forth.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
perience is the subjective (or rather intersubjective) construc-
tion of the environment. Hence, a specifically psychological
connotation to the notion of context is assumed—as the affec-
tive hypergeneralized meaning in terms of which people con-
note the field of experience.
Evidence of the Salience of Affective Semiosis
Both inside and outside the psychodynamic field, there is
empirical evidence supporting the idea of the salience of a di-
mension of generalized meaning. From a social psychology
perspective, studies on the semantic differential (Osgood, Suci,
& Tannenbaum, 1957) have highlighted that when subjects are
asked to evaluate different objects they systematically connote
such objects in a latently similar way, regardless of the seman-
tic difference among them. In short, different objects elicit a
similar generalized meaning. Moreover, in spite of the fact that
this literature has developed essentially outside the psycho-
dynamic field, the authors have recognized the affective nature
of this process of meaning construction, due to its generalized,
basic, elementary as well as conative nature. These findings
offer evidence that the mind carries out sense-making that is the
expression of affective generalized classes of meanings in op-
positional relationships (good versus bad; full-of-power vs
empty-of-power; active vs passive) and is referred to the global
field of the experience as a whole. At this level of semiosis,
objects are interpreted as part of such an affective field (for
instance, as merged with the context as good and powerful),
regardless of their semantic specificity. Further evidence that
affective semiosis works independently of the cognitive com-
putation focused on the semantic content is provided by the
classical studies of Turvey, Fertig and Kravetz (1969), which
showed that the priming effect works also when the prime and
the target stimuli have no semantic relationship but share the
same affective meaning—as it is identified by their similar
position on the latent dimensions depicted by the semantic dif-
ferential (e.g. two objects both connoted as fine and powerful).
Similarly, based on a priming procedure, Murphy and Zajonc
(1993) showed that preferences do not require semantic elabo-
ration of the stimulus; this leads to the conclusion that the af-
fective elaboration of the experience comes before and guides
the semantic-cognitive computation.
A different stream of studies provides convergent evidence.
Several surveys aimed at mapping the people’s way of connot-
ing specific social objects (e.g. Carli & Salvatore, 2001; Guidi
& Salvatore, in press; Salvatore, Mannarini, & Rubino, 2004),
have systematically found the same pattern of representation,
whatever the object under scrutiny (i.e. the psychologist, the
school attended, the University, the community health services)
and whatever the socio-cultural context of the study (e.g. urban
vs rural areas). In all these studies, the representation of the
target object results from the respondents’ global image of the
context. For instance, if one has a negative vision of the context,
she connotes the psychologist as a cheat, assimilating him with
a self-styled magician, or represents the teacher of her own
school as incompetent and untrustworthy; on the contrary, if
one has a positive image of the context, then this connotation
reverberates on the psychologist, the teacher, the community
health system and any other discrete object that is part of the
field so connoted, which thus is represented as trustable, skillful,
efficient and the like.
In a recent study aimed at surveying the customer satisfac-
tion of a national sample of parents in the Italian school system
(Salvatore, Mossi, & Cazzetta, 2007), two findings were re-
ported that are worth mentioning here: First, the rate of overall
satisfaction was uncorrelated with the analytic judgments con-
cerning the specific issues involved in the school service. This
finding was seen as an indication that the overall satisfaction
with the service was the result of a synthetic global evaluation
of the experience of relating with the school, instead of a re-
flection of a functional examination of the elements and aspects
(content, process, performance modality, etc.) underlying the
service. Second, the analytic judgments turn out to be strongly
associated with the corresponding level of relevance these same
issues have to the school service. This was taken as an indica-
tion that the attribution of relevance did not depend on a func-
tional (hence, semantic-based) analysis of the value of the issue,
but rather on the respondent’s liking for the issue; the more
they liked it (the more they were satisfied with it), the more
they felt it to be important. Translating these findings into the
terms of our discussion, they highlight the fact that in an
evaluative task—at least when there is a high degree of in-
volvement of the subjective sphere (that is, as a level of satis-
faction)—people tend to make generalized, affective categori-
zations without the constraint of being anchored to the func-
tional analysis of the semantic content.
In sum, the findings mentioned above show the salience of a
level of affective sense-making:
1) Working in a generalized and homogenizing way, not con-
strained by the semantic differentiation of the objects;
2) Referring to the whole field of experience rather than to
discrete objects, the latter being connoted by reason of their
embeddedness in the field (i.e., an object is good or bad be-
cause it is part of a field connoted as good or bad);
3) Playing a super-ordered, regulative role in the semantic
elaboration of discrete elements of the field of experience (i.e.,
the affective connotation of the field of experience feeds the
way of thinking about the specific objects, and therefore the
commitment and attitude toward them).
A Model of Affective Sense-Making
As seen above, a plurality of sources of evidence (along with
many clinical observations) highlights the presence of affective
sense-making, as well as its effect on how people think and act.
Yet, this literature has not yet provided an analytic model of the
relationship between the affective sense-making of the field of
experience (henceforth: affective meaning) and the cognitive
processes of semantic elaboration of the discrete objects of the
field (henceforth: semantic meaning). This absence constrains
the chances of empirical validation of the theory, therefore
reducing the possibility of its development and integration with
other theories of sense-making and social action. Above all, it
prevents the possibility of developing strategies and method-
ologies of psychosocial intervention that take into account the
interlacement between affective and semantic meaning.
The current study takes step toward addressing this issue. A
formal quantitative model of the relation between the affective
and semantic meaning was proposed, and this model was given
its first empirical test. The model is hierarchical: it encom-
passes first order factors (i.e. semantic meanings concerning
discrete objects) and second order factors (i.e. affective mean-
ing concerning the whole field of experience).
SM = f (Afe, Sdo)
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 571
Sdo = h(Afe)
SM = Sense-making;
Afe = Affective meaning of the field of experience;
Sdo = Semantic meaning of discrete objects.
In brief, the formula represents in a formalized language the
idea that the sense-making process depends on the relationship
between affective categorization and cognitive computation, where
affective categorization comes first.
Aim and Hypothesis of the Study
The study aimed to test the hierarchical structure of the
model, highlighting the super-ordinate role played by the affec-
tive meaning. According to the model of sense-making pro-
posed above, it was hypothesized that:
a) Sense-making has two dimensions of functioning: seman-
tic and affective meaning;
a1) Semantic meaning concerns the representation of discrete
a2) Affective meaning concerns the totality of the field of the
b) Affective meaning connotes the field of experience in
terms of generalized and homogenized classes of meanings;
c) Affective meaning is super-ordinate to semantic mean-
ing—namely, it has a regulative, downward, causal influence
on semantic meaning.
To test the model, a secondary analysis on a dataset resulting
from a survey involving freshmen in the undergraduate psy-
chology program at the University of Salento, Lecce, Italy
(Venuleo, Mossi, & Salvatore, submitted) was performed. The
survey was aimed at detecting anticipatory images of the uni-
versity expressed by freshmen at the moment of their first con-
tact with the new educational context. Two specific hypotheses
about such anticipatory images were assumed: 1) they would
impact the middle and long-term academic performance of
students; 2) they would constitute a valuable knowledge base
for the elaboration of effective educational policies.
A non-representative sample of the student population made
up of three hundred and ninety freshmen intending to join the
undergraduate psychology program at University of Salento
were involved in the survey. All cases with missing values were
excluded from the analysis. The resulting reduced sample was
composed of N = 366 cases, of which 312 were female
(85.25%). The students’ age ranged from 18 to 50; most of
them (84.43%) were 18 to 25, 7.65% from 26 to 35, and about
6% were older than 36. More than half the sample (59.56%)
was unemployed, 12.3% had a full-time jobs, and 23.77% had
an odd or part-time jobs (4.4% did not provide this information).
Freshmen were administered a paper-and-pencil question-
naire in September 2009, as freshmen were summoned to take
the admission test for the undergraduate psychology program.
Before completing the test, students were given 90 minutes to
fill in the questionnaire about anticipatory images of the uni-
versity. Data entry was carried out with the support of an optic
reader. Data analyses were performed using MATLAB soft-
ware, Version R2009b.
The original questionnaire, composed of 135 items, was de-
signed to map the students’ semantic meaning (opinions, judg-
ments, evaluations) of four objects: 1) ξ1, Commitment to the
university (motivations, expectations); 2) ξ2, Trustworthiness of
the social system (reliability of social structures, e.g., local
administration and services); 3) ξ3, Psychology as a profession
(functions of psychologists and psychological knowledge); and
4) ξ4, General values (morality, respect of rules, etc.). All vari-
ables were measured with a 4-point Likert-like scale, either in
the format of agreement (from “fully disagree” to “fully agree”)
or intensity (from “not at all” to “very much”). For the current
study, a subset of 19 items was selected, also called manifest
variables (see Table 1), based upon the results of an item
analysis performed on the whole dataset. Items were selected
according to the strength of the contribution they provided to
the measurement of the semantic meaning attributed to the four
objects upon which the questionnaire was focused.
Data Analysis. PLS Path Modeling for
Higher-Order Constructs
To test the hypothesized model, a procedure of analysis
based on PLS Path Modeling with high order constructs was
implemented. Due to its ability to estimate complex models,
PLS Path Modeling can be used to investigate models at a high
level of abstraction. The basic PLS design was first performed
in 1966 by Herman Wold for multivariate analysis, and its ap-
plication was subsequently extended to Structural Equation
Modeling (SEM) in 1975 by Wold himself (for an extensive
review on PLS approach, see Esposito Vinzi, Chin, Henseler, &
Wang, 2010).
The procedure can be thought of as the analysis of two con-
ceptually different models: 1) A structural (or inner) model that
specifies the causal relationships among Latent Variables (LVs),
as posited by a given theory; 2) A measurement (or outer)
model that specifies the relationship of the Manifest Variables
(MV) with their (hypothesized) underlying LVs—in our case,
the latent constructs are the semantic (I order) and affective (II
order) meanings.
The two models’ equations are as follows:
 
,1,,1 ,1
 
,1,,1 ,1
pm mp
where the subscripts m and p are the number of latent and
manifest variables in the model, respectively, while ξ represents
the LV’s vector and x the vector of MVs. Path coefficients
linking the LVs are indicated by the matrix B, while factor
loadings linking MVs to LVs are represented by the matrix Λ.
Finally, the τ and δ vectors indicate error terms of the structural
and measurement model, respectively. The estimation algo-
rithm is explained in the Appendix.
Wold’s original PLS path modeling design does not consider
higher-order LVs; each construct has to be related to a set of
observed variables in order to be estimated. To address this,
Lohmöller (1989) proposed a procedure for the case of hierarchical
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 573
Table 1.
Latent Variables and selected Manifest Variables.
Latent Variables (LVs) and corresponding object Manifest Variables (MVs)
x1 Teachers love their subjects
x2 Degree of development of Italian university system
x3 Degree of development of University of Salento
ξ1 UNIVERSITY (Commitment on university)
x4 Usefulness of university studies for a job placement
x5 Trust in Local Government
x6 Trust in Health System
x7 Trust in Police
x8 Trust in Public Administration
ξ2 SOCIETY (Trustworthiness of social structures)
x9 Degree of development of Italy
x10 To see a psychologist is necessary
x11 To see a psychologist is useful
x12 To see a psychologist is interesting
ξ3 PSYCHO (Psychology as profession)
x13 To see a psychologist is risky
x14 Relying on people is difficult
x15 People can only rely on themselves
x16 The importance of understanding the world
x17 The importance of being unscrupulous
x18 The importance of obeying the rules
ξ4 VALUES (General values)
x19 The importance of commanding respect
constructs, the so-called Hierarchical Component Model or
Repeated Indicators Approach, which is the most popular approach
when estimating higher-order constructs through PLS (another
procedure used is the Two-Step Approach; see Agarwal &
Karahanna, 2000; Diamantopoulos & Winklhofer, 2001; Rein-
artz, Krafft, & Hoyer, 2004). The procedure is very simple: The
manifest indicators are used a second time to directly measure
the higher-order construct; a second-order factor is directly
measured by observed variables for all first-order factors.
While this approach repeats the number of MVs used, the
model can be estimated using the standard PLS algorithm (Re-
inartz et al., 2004). The repeated indicator approach is illus-
trated in Figure 1.
The Theoretical Model
According to the theoretical model, the LVs ξ1, (UNIVER-
SITY2) ξ2, (SOCIETY) ξ3, (PSYCHO) ξ4, (VALUES) were
considered as independent first order constructs. This assump-
tion of independence was made because these constructs con-
cern separate objects (i.e. Commitment on university, Trust-
worthiness of the social system, Psychology as profession,
General values) that lack semantic linkage between them.
Consequently, in the first-order model, no causative relation
ships among the constructs were assumed, which limited the
analysis to a descriptive calculation of the correlation (Pear-
son’s coefficient) among them.
The second-order construct (ξ5) introduced, named IMAGE,
is a dimension underlying the first order LVs, and is linked (in
a “reflective” way, see appendix) with all of them. In the sec-
ond-order model, LVs at the first level hold the same absence
of relationships supposed in the first-order model. Figure 2
reports the path diagram of the theoretical model, showing just
the causative relationships from the second order and the first
Order LV
Order LV
Order LV
Figure 1.
PLS model building: Repeated indicators.
2In the whole text caps were adopted for indicating latent constructs
and italics for the corresponding objects.
3It is worth to remind that PLS path modeling lacks a well identified
global optimization criterion, and then no global fitting function to
assess the goodness of the model exists. The GoF index, introduced by
Tenenhaus, Amato & Esposito Vinzi (2004), represents an operational
solution to this problem, being based on local measures (communality
index and R-square, which are quality measures referred to each single
LV) rather than on a global criterion of fitness. Figure 2.
Second-order model path diagram.
order constructs, and hides the link with the manifest variables.
Composite reliability (Chin, 1998) was used to assess the in-
ternal consistency of each block of MVs (it should be > .70).
Regarding the inner model, the coefficient of determination
(R-square) of each dependent LV gives the local fit of the
model. Goodness of Fit (GoF) was instead taken as a goodness
of fit index of the overall model3. Furthermore, for assessing
the significance of path coefficients, t-values have been com-
puted by bootstrapping (200 samples; t-values > 1.96 signifi-
cant at the .01 level).
First-order model. Table 2 shows the coefficients of correla-
tion among the four first order constructs. As one can see, 3 out of
6 correlations are statistically significant: SOCIETY-UNIVER-
SITY (r = .48), VALUES-PSYCHO (r = .14) and SOCIETY-
VALUES (r = –.12).
Second-order model. Table 3 shows the model’s quality
measures. Two first order constructs (UNIVERSITY and SO-
CIETY) are higher than the .70 threshold; the other two
(VALUES and PSYCHO) are borderline. The second order
construct reaches a level (.44) far from the standard unidimen-
sionality. SOCIETY and UNIVERSITY show the highest level
of local fitness (respectively, .75 and .58). Figure 3 reports the
estimated values, with the respective significance, of the path
coefficients (linking second to first-order LVs). All four path
Table 2.
Correlation among first-order LVs.
University Society Psycho Values
University 1 - - -
Society .48* 1 - -
Psycho .02 –.04 1 -
Values –.08 –.12* .14* 1
Table 3.
Reliability measures and Goodness of Fit.
Composite Reliability R Square GoF
University .726 .575 .37
Society .780 .752
Values .668 .198
Psycho .620 .138
Image .442 -
Figure 3.
Estimated path coefficients and t-statistics.
coefficients are statistically significant; three of them—IMAGE
SOCIETY (.87, t = 20.74) and IMAGE UNIVERSITY
(.76, t = 15.65) and IMAGE VALUES (.45, t = 7.21) are
highly significant.
The empirical test has provided evidence that supports the
theoretical model proposed. Regarding the theoretical model
and its empirical test, three main points are worth highlighting.
First, the inner model, assuming causative unidirectional link-
age from the second order factor to the first order factors,
showed all defined linkages as being statistically significant.
Moreover, these causative linkages had good indexes of fit; and
the same was true for the model as a whole (GoF = .37, cfr.
Table 3). Second, to interpret the second order construct, one
has to consider that the outer model addressed the full set of
items measured as part of it. This means that the second factor
was defined as a construct pertaining to the meaning of the
experience (as all items measured this kind of content), yet was
independent from its specific semantic content (as it is the set
of items taken as a whole that measured the construct, regard-
less of the fact that items pertained to different semantic do-
mains/objects—i.e., Commitment to the university, Trustwor-
thiness of the social systems, Psychology as profession, Gen-
eral values). In accord with our hypothesis, this way of meas-
uring the second order factor legitimized our conceptualization
of it as affective meaning—namely, the global connotation of
the whole field of experience was not dependent on/constrained
by the semantic specificity of the discrete objects in which the
field was articulated.
Thus, taken together, the inner and outer models provided
evidence supporting our hypothesis that affective meaning has a
downward, causal, regulative influence on semantic meaning.
In other words, the model showed how the representation of
discrete objects depends on the affective connotation of the
general field of experience. Incidentally, this conclusion allows
us to understand the data emerging from our analysis that are
otherwise counterintuitive: the associations among first order
SOCIETY-VALUES). If one conceives of sense-making in a
unidimensional way—namely, only as a matter of semantic-
cognitive processes—these associations are hard to understand
given that there are no semantic similarities/connections among
the involved objects (commitment to the university, trustwor-
thiness of the social system, general values, psychology as sci-
ence). On the contrary, they can be interpreted as indirectly
reflecting the effect of the affective meaning’s regulative func-
tion. In other words, what the first order constructs have in
common is not their semantic content, but their regulation by
the affective super-ordinate meaning.
Third, it is worth noting that two out of four first order con-
structs (VALUE and PSYCHO) did not reach a fully satisfying
level of reliability (cfr. Table 3). Furthermore, the second order
construct’s level of reliability was even lower. The borderline
level of reliability of VALUE and PSYCHO can be understood
if one considers that a second analysis on a dataset produced for
other studies was carried out. However, the value of internal
consistency of the second order construct would ideally be
evaluated taking into account the heterogeneous content of the
set of manifest variables used to measure it. Regardless, this
study is not concerned with the method of measuring the con-
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
structs, but rather with the linkages among them. According to
that focus, the very fact that the measurement of the latent con-
structs was not fully efficient made it even more notable that
statistically significant causative linkages emerged from the
Fourth, the strength of the causal linkages between second
order and first order constructs linking each single object to the
generalized super-ordinate meaning varied across the four ob-
jects. Two path coefficients (related to UNIVERSITY and SO-
CIETY) were high, however, one was quite high (VALUE),
while another was closer to the threshold of statistical signifi-
cance. This leads us to conclude that each object is only partly
affected by affective meaning, thereby preserving specificity
and a degree of independence for that object.
In sum, our findings showed that sense-making unfolds on
two different levels, which encompass both specific meanings
related to the issues addressed by the intervention (semantic
meanings) and hypergeneralized meanings (i.e. affective mean-
ings) concerning the whole experience of the individuals, which
play a super-ordinate role on the former. How may these find-
ings be used for designing and implementing cultural-based
interventions in community settings according to an ecological
perspective? Its is argued that our model can serve as a tool for
the diagnostic phase of the intervention and has relevant impli-
cations for the actions to be planned and undertaken, as well as
for general methodology. In the authors’ view, two main im-
plications can be highlighted.
First, this model leads to a new interpretation of the notion of
local knowledge/local culture. If one takes into account the role
of affect in shaping the experience that people make of their
immediate environment, one also has to consider that when
local knowledge (i.e. local culture) is elicited and communities
are involved in the whole process of the intervention, there are
two “horns” of culture to deal with: one horn is situatedness,
the other is globality. Thus, on the one hand, one is inclined to
consider the situated experience of individuals and groups and
to circumscribe this experience to specific objects—mainly
those directly addressed by the intervention. On the other hand,
one is inclined to consider a super-ordinate level of experience
that concerns the relationship between the individuals and the
context at a more general level. These two levels are inter-
twined, so that what people perceive, think, and imagine about
the specific objects (e.g. university, psychology, etc.) on which
the intervention is focused, is not separable from the hypergen-
eralized meanings emerging from their unreflective global ex-
perience of the immediate environment.
An example of what the recognition of the affective meaning
could mean at the level of intervention is provided by the ac-
tions implemented in the psychology undergraduate course our
study addressed. To facilitate the transition of freshmen from
high school to university and therefore increase their learning
capabilities, an ad hoc setting was created: Freshmen were in-
vited to meet each others in groups, for a planned period of
time and a number of sessions (15 participants each group,
lasting 2 hours, encountering 5 times). Group meetings were
planned and directed in accordance with the ecological, cul-
tural-oriented, general tenet stating that enabling actors to ana-
lyze and make sense of their local system of activity is an effi-
cacious lever of empowerment. Accordingly, the groups’ aim
was to promote and support the freshmen’s sense-making of
their new educational role (e.g., in terms of role demands,
“rules of the game”, ends, goals, tools and resources character-
izing the educational micro-system). As a consequence of the
recognition of the affective dimension of sense-making, these
groups were committed to an additional function/aim: enabling
the freshmen to recognize the affective meanings crossing their
shared culture, thereby regulating and constraining their indi-
vidual, as well as intersubjective, ways of understanding and
acting within the new educational system. Thus, in the group
setting, the elaboration of being-an-undergraduate-student-of-
psychology was not limited to the cognitive task addressing the
semantic objects sustaining the experience of being a student
(e.g., the educational task, the learning standards, the logistic,
didactic, and organizational resources and tools, the contents
and structure of the programs, the implicit and explicit social
norms active in the context, the attitude of the professors, and
so forth). Rather, it was expanded to include the affective
meanings that—due to their hypergeneralized extension—go
far beyond the semantic and functional boundaries of the edu-
cational setting, encompassing the infinite (present, past, and
future) elements of the freshmen’s life that (directly or indi-
rectly) are associated with the experience of being an under-
graduate student (e.g., the community of peers, the family, the
social environmental, the job market, and the like). In last
analysis, so defined, the groups worked in a reflective setting
where freshmen could analyze the rooting and the shaping of
their new educational experience within/by their individual and
societal identity (for details on this model of setting, its way of
functioning and impact, see Venuleo & Guidi, 2010; see also
Kullasepp, 2010). To say this another way, the recognition of
the salience of the affective meaning produced a shift in the
psychological intervention on the educational setting; this shift
was from the analysis of the identity of role to the analysis of
the role of the identity.
Second, our model suggests that the actions to be imple-
mented vary according to the autonomy of the object—i.e., the
degree of independence of the cognitive-semantic representa-
tion from the hypergeneralized meaning connoting the global
field of experience. The greater the autonomy, the more the
action will need to focus on the object (e.g., technical training),
leaving aside the general experience of the broader context (e.g.,
the education system, or the cultural frames). Conversely, the
lower the autonomy, the more the action will have to rely upon
the experience and the reflexivity of participants (e.g., group-
based self-reflexive training). This leads us to argue for the
utility of introducing a diagnostic phase aimed at estimating the
degree of autonomy of the object(s) in the planning of ecologi-
cal culture-based intervention. For instance, take the freshmen
of our study and image two scenarios of intervention: Scenario
A is the one which was referred to above—namely, the one that
aims to elaborate the transition into the new educational setting
and the empowerment of the capability of learning. The inter-
vention was carried out based on a diagnosis according to
which the object addressed (the commitment to the university)
showed a fair degree of autonomy, and such a diagnosis sug-
gested the activation of a reflective setting.
Suppose instead that the diagnosis showed that another ob-
ject, for instance English as an instrumental language, was en-
dowed with autonomy. In this (virtual) scenario B, the interven-
tion has a more specific aim: to favor the use of English as the
main language in the educational setting (provided, of course,
the setting is not an English speaking country). Consequently,
while in Scenario A, the intervention required the activation of
a reflective setting, the intervention in Scenario B would re-
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 575
quire a technical-training setting focused on the specific target
object—namely the diffusion of linguistic competences.
In conclusion, though the authors are aware that the sound-
ness of the model requires further examination through repeated
tests on a greater variety of datasets, objects, and settings, they
feel that this study represents a first step toward a deeper com-
prehension of the individual-context relationship, and enriches
the ecological perspective. Indeed, taking the role of affects
into account can help psychologists and practitioners develop a
more sophisticated sensitivity to the context, and drive them
toward a more subtle calibration of culture-based interventions.
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Appendix for Mode B (formative relationship).
The inner weights ej,i, in the centroid scheme, are defined as
the sign of the correlation between the connected estimated yj
and yi, with i j.
The PLS algorithm.
The parameters estimation (Ciavolino & Al-Nasser, 2009) is
based on a double approximation of the LVs ξj (with j = 1, ···,
m). The external estimation yj, obtained as the product of the
block of MVs Xj (considered as the matrix units for variables)
and the outer weights w
j (which represent the estimation of
measurement coefficients, Λ). The internal estimation z
j, ob-
tained as the product of the external estimation of ξj, yj, and the
inner weights ej.
The PLS algorithm starts by initializing outer weights to one
for the first MV of each LV; then, the parameters estimation is
performed, until the convergence, by iteratively computing:
1) External estimation, yXz;
2) Internal estimation, ,
ji i
According with the relationship among MVs and LVs hy-
pothesized, outer weights are computed as: 3) Outer weights estimation, with Mode A or B.
The causal paths among LVs (the coefficients in the B ma-
trix) are obtained through Ordinary Least Squares (OLS)
for Mode A (reflective relationship), and:
jjj j