Script theory

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Script theory is a psychological theory which posits that human behaviour largely falls into patterns called "scripts" because they function analogously to the way a written script does, by providing a program for action. Silvan Tomkins created script theory as a further development of his affect theory, which regards human beings' emotional responses to stimuli as falling into categories called "affects": he noticed that the purely biological response of affect may be followed by awareness and by what we cognitively do in terms of acting on that affect so that more was needed to produce a complete explanation of what he called "human being theory".

In script theory, the basic unit of analysis is called a "scene", defined as a sequence of events linked by the affects triggered during the experience of those events. Tomkins recognized that our affective experiences fall into patterns that we may group together according to criteria such as the types of persons and places involved and the degree of intensity of the effect experienced, the patterns of which constitute scripts that inform our behavior in an effort to maximize positive affect and to minimize negative affect.


  • Nathanson, Donald L. Shame and Pride: Affect, Sex, and the Birth of the Self. London: W.W. Norton, 1992
  • Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky and Adam Frank, eds. 1995. Shame and Its Sisters: A Silvan Tomkins Reader. Durham and London: Duke University Press.
  • Tomkins, Silvan. "Script Theory". The Emergence of Personality. Eds. Joel Arnoff, A. I. Rabin, and Robert A. Zucker. New York: Springer Publishing Company, 1987. 147–216.
  • Tomkins, Silvan. "Script Theory: Differential Magnification of Affects". Nebraska Symposium On Motivation 1978. Ed. Richard A. Deinstbier. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1979. 201–236.