MAINTENANCE - Social Exchange Theory

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MAINTENANCE - Social Exchange Theory AO1/AO2

AO1 - Thibaut and Kelley

  • people are fundamentally selfish and we view our feelings for others in terms of profits - the greater the reward and lower the cost, the greater the profit
  • people aim to minimise costs and maximise rewards
  • committment to a relationship is dependent on the profability of this
  • compare our relationships to previous and alternative relationships in order to determine how profitable it is to stay in the current one
  • develop a comparison level and if the potential profit in a relationship exceeds the CL then it is seen as worthwhile and the other person more attractive as a partner

AO2 - TOP FOR - Simpson et al

  • investigated how people in relationships deal with potential alternatives, p's rated members of the opposite sex in terms of attractiveness, those involved in a relationship already gave lower ratings, so people are happier in relationships seen as equitable

TAIL - protect relationship by seeing others as unrewarding making them happier in their own- comparison level

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MAINTENANCE - Social Exchange Theory AO2


Sedikies (2005)

  • being in close relationships helps increase self esteem, we are capable of being altruistic (opposite of selfish and seeking our own rewards) when we bolster our partners self systems when they are faced with failure, suggesting people do not always consider rewards in relationships (tail)

Murstein et al (1977)

  • SET does not apply to people in healthy relationships but only those who keep 'score', created exchange orientation tool, indentifying such scorekeepers, who are suspicious and insecure, so SET only suits relationships lacking in confidence and mutual trust

TAIL - against as suggests theory is not universally valid and only applies to some relationships

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MAINTENANCE - Equity Theory AO1/IDAs

AO1 - Walster et al

  • people strive to achieve fairness in their relationships and feel distressed if they perceive unfairness causing dissatisfaction
  • the greater perceived inequity, the greater the distress and dissatisfaction 
  • equity does not necessarily mean equality as each partner can contribute differently, as long as it is perceived fair by both partners
  • an equitable partnership is where one partner's benefits minus costs equals their partner's benefits minus costs


  • cultural bias - 'economic' theories only apply to Western relationships and even then only to short term relationships among individuals with high mobility, eg students, as where there is little time to develop commitment it makes sense to be concerned with costs and benefits
  • real world application - Gottman and Levenson found that in successful marriages the ratio of positive to negative exchanges was around 5:1 but in unsuccessful ones 1:1, showing that people try and please each other and not themselves
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MAINTENANCE - Equity Theory AO2


Stafford and Canary (2006)

  • asked 200 married couples to complete measures of equity and relationships satisfaction and measures of five maintenance strategies - positivity, openess, assurances, social networks and sharing tasks, satisfaction was highest for spouses who perceived their relationship to be equitable

TAIL - supports as shows couples are happiest when they perceive equity in their relationship


Clark and Mills (1979)

  • distinguished between exchange relationships (colleagues) and communal relationships (lovers/friends) arguing than exchange relationships may involve keeping track of rewards and costs but communal relationships are about responding to the needs of the partner

TAIL - equity is unimportant in communal relationships as they strive to support the other, not themselves

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