Theories of Romantic Relationships - Social Exchange

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  • Social Exchange Theory (SET)
    • REWARDS, COSTS & PROFITS - To minimise losses and maximise gains, we judge relationships on rewards and costs. the value of costs and rewards are subjective. Rewards: companionship, sex, emotional support. Costs: time, stress, compromise.
    • COMPARISON LEVEL (CL) - The amount of reward  you think you deserve. Develops from our past experiences, social norms. We consider a relationship more  when CL is high , there's a link with self-esteem. High self esteem = worth more benefits, low self esteem = less benefits.
    • COMPARISON LEVEL OF ALTERNATIVES (CLalt) -  Could  i gain greater rewards and less costs somewhere else?  If costs of our current relationships outweigh the rewards, alternatives become more attractive.
    • STAGES  OF RELATIONSHIP DEVELOPMENT - SAMPLING STAGE = we experiment with rewards and costs  in our relationship. BARGAINING STAGE = beginning of relationship, negotiating  costs and rewards. COMMITMENT STAGE = relationship becomes more stable and sources of rewards and costs are predictable. INSTITUTIONALISATION STAGE = settled, rewards and costs are firmly established
    • Mills & Cark (2011)  argued that SET explains exchange relationships such as work colleagues  but communal relationships such as romantic partners are marked by giving and receiving of rewards without  keeping score. Based on faulty assumptions.
    • The majority or supporting research  is based on artificial tasks in artificail conditions. For example, some research uses 2 strangers, completing a task whilst measuring rewards and costs but knowing nothing about each other. More realistic studies provide less support for this theory, especially as snapshot studies can't  account for properties that develop over time such as trust.
    • CL is SET ignores fairness/equity. There is plenty of research  to support that equity is more important than balance.


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