Social Exchange Theory
Homans (1971): combination of economic theory and operant conditioning.
Relationships do involve rewards but they also involve costs. Costs can be many different things such as; money, time or other costs such as betrayal and jealousy.
Whilst in a relationship we keep track of the exchange of rewards and costs.
If the rewards outweigh the costs then the relationship is said to be in 'profit' however if the costs outweigh the rewards then the relationship is said to be in a state of 'loss'.
If the relationship is in a state of 'loss' then those involved are dissatisfied.
The basics of social exchange theory are that people are selfish and aim to maximise their rewards and minimise their costs.
Thibault and Kelley (1959): development of social exchange theory.
Relationships are similar to business transactions and people keep an eye on the 'balance sheet' comparing it to previous relationships and other available options.
There are two levels of comparison:
- The comparison level (CL): this compares the relationship to a general expectation of how rewarding relationships should be by comparing it to previous relationships. If the current one seems to be more rewarding then those involved are likely to be satisfied.
- Comparison Level for Alternatives (CL Alt): this compares the current relationship to other possible relationships. If the current relationship compares favourably then those involved are again likely to be satisfied.
Evaluation of Social Exchange Theory and Interdepe
- Assumes that people spend a lot of time and effort monitoring their relationship. This was challenged by Argyle who argued that people only begin to monitor their relationship once they become dissatisfied with it.
- Studies have shown both rewards and costs increase as a relationship develops.
- Social exchange theory views people as self-centered and likely to leave relationships in a state of less but it is very apparent that people continue to stay in extremely unrewarding relationships such as those with domestic violence or abuse.
Rusbult and Van Lange (1996): to understand why people stay in relationships we have to take into account the level of investment. The best indicator of whether or not a couple will stay together is commitment, this is made up of many factors including:
-Satisfaction with the relationship, belief that it is better than alternative relationships and substantial investment in the relationship.
The key difference between this and SET is that the emphasis is on investments rather than costs.
Rhahgan and Axsom (2006): large study into women living in refuge, they found that the factors outlined by the Investment Model contributed to the women's commitment to stay with their partner.
Jerstad (2005): studied both men and women, found that investments especially the amount of time and effort put into the relationship were the most important predictor of whether or not someone would stay with a violent partner.
Walster (1978): people weigh up rewards and costs within relationships but people have an expectation that relationships should be fair. According to this theory people monitor what both they and their partner are putting in and getting out of the relationship.
If this is equal then they are likely to be satisfied and the the relationship will continue. If this is unequal though, the relationship will be 'inequitable' and this will lead to problems.
The feeling of inequity will lead the 'loser' to feel dissatisfied and the 'winner' to then feel guilty.
If the relationship is of fairly short duration then it is likely that one partner may simply end it. However if they have been together a fairly long time and have both invested in the relationship they may be motivated to repair it by restoring equity.
This could be done by: reducing inputs or by increasing the outputs and rewards.