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What Is the Social Exchange Theory

by Sara
(United States)

What are the central principles of social exchange theory?

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key Principles
by: Alyssa

Social exchange theory is a psychological framework that seeks to understand human interactions and relationships based on the principles of costs and benefits. It suggests that individuals make decisions about their relationships by weighing the potential rewards against the potential costs. Here are the key principles of social exchange theory:

Costs and Benefits: At the core of social exchange theory is the idea that people engage in social interactions to maximize rewards and minimize costs. Rewards can include emotional support, companionship, resources, and enjoyment, while costs can encompass time, effort, emotional stress, and sacrifices.

Comparison Level (CL): Individuals have a personal comparison level, which is the standard they use to evaluate whether a relationship is satisfactory or not. If the perceived rewards of a relationship surpass an individual's comparison level, they are more likely to view the relationship as positive.

Comparison Level for Alternatives (CLalt): This refers to an individual's assessment of the potential outcomes in alternative relationships or situations. If a person believes they could have better rewards in an alternative relationship, they may be more inclined to leave the current relationship.

Equity Theory: Social exchange theory also includes the concept of equity, which suggests that people are motivated to maintain fairness and balance in their relationships. When individuals perceive an imbalance between their inputs (contributions) and outputs (rewards) compared to their partner's, they may feel dissatisfied or motivated to restore equity.

Predicting Behavior: Social exchange theory posits that by understanding the perceived rewards and costs of a relationship, one can predict the likelihood of certain behaviors, such as commitment, satisfaction, maintenance efforts, and even the decision to continue or terminate a relationship.

Relationship Dynamics: Social exchange theory helps explain the dynamics of relationships, such as why people may choose to remain in unhappy relationships if they perceive the benefits as outweighing the costs, or why people may choose to leave seemingly rewarding relationships if an alternative offers even greater rewards.

Differences in Relationships: Social exchange theory can be applied to various types of relationships, from romantic partnerships to friendships to professional collaborations. It can also explain why some relationships may be more stable and satisfying than others.

Cultural and Contextual Factors: Cultural norms and societal expectations play a role in shaping individuals' perceptions of costs and rewards, as well as their comparison levels and alternatives.

While social exchange theory provides valuable insights into human relationships, it's important to note that it is not the only framework for understanding social interactions. Relationships are complex and influenced by multiple factors, including emotions, communication, values, and personal history. Social exchange theory offers a lens through which to view some aspects of relationships, but it may not capture the full richness of human connections.

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