Psychology Unit 3 Relationships - Maintenance of romantic relationships

HideShow resource information
  • Created by: Natalie
  • Created on: 07-06-13 09:46

Social Exchange Theory

  • Percieves people as being selfish!
  • Homans (1974) believes that people view their feelings for others in terms of profits = rewards obtained from the relationship - costs.  The greater the rewards and the lower the costs the more the profits and therefore more motivation to maintain relationship. 
  • Blau (1964) interactions are 'expensive' because they take time, energy and commitment and may involve unpleasant emotions and experiences.  What we get out of a relationship must exceed what we put in. 
  • Berschied and Walster (1978) social interactions involve and exchange of rewards e.g. affection and status.  The degree of attraction or liking reflects how people evaluate the rewards they recieve relative to those given. 
  • Economic theory.
  • Explains relationships in terms of maximising rewards and minimising the costs. 
  • A person assesses their rewards making two comparisons:

1. The comparison level (CL) - rewards are compared to costs to judge profits.

2. The comparison level for alternative relationships (CLalt) - rewards and costs are are compared against percieved rewards and costs for a possible alternative relationship.

1 of 9

Social Exchange Theory

A relationship is maintained if rewards exceed costs and the profit level isnt exceeded by possible alternative realtionships.

Thibaut and Kelley et al (1959) - proposed a 4 stage model

The model sets out how relationships can be maintained.  Percieves that over time people develop a predictable and mutually beneficial pattern of exchanges, assisting the maintenance of relationships.


Sampling Rewards and costs are assessed in a number of relationships

Bargaining A relationship is 'costed out' and sources of profit and loss are identified

Commitment Relationship is established and maintained by a predictable exchange of rewards

Institutionalism Interactions are establish and the couple settle down

2 of 9

Research - Social Exchange Theory

Mills and Clark (1980)

identified two typed of intamate relationship

1. the communal couple - each partner give out concern for the other 

2. the exchange couple - each partner keeps mental records of who is ahead and who is behind. 

This suggests that there are different types of relationships and the the SET can be applied to some of them however not all. 

Rusbult (1983)

FOUND - costs and rewards of relationships we compared to costs and rewards of potential alternative relationships in order to decide whether the relationship should be maintained.

SUPPORTS the SET's idea that people assess rewards by making comparisons.

3 of 9

Research - Social Exchange Theory

Hatfield (1979)

Looked at people who felt under or over benefited.

Underbenefited = felt angry and deprived

Overbenefited = felt guilty and uncomfortable

SUPPORTS the theory by suggesting that regardless of whether individuals are benefited they dont desire to maintain a relationship that isnt fair. 

4 of 9

Evaluation - Social Exchange Theory


  • Rubin (1983) - although people arent fundamentally selfish, attitudes towards others are determined to a large extent by how rewarding we think they are for us. 
  • SET was modified in to the equity theory so it gave grounding for a more developed therory to become established. 


  • Fromm (1962) - argued against the theory.  Defining true love as giving, as opposed to false love of the 'marketing character', where people expect to have favours returned. 
  • Argyle (1988) criticised methodologies that evaluate SET declaring them contrived and artifical with little relevance to real life. 
  • Research has focused on the short term effects of relationships rather than the long term.
5 of 9

Equity Theory

  • Percieves indiviudals as motivated to achieve fairness in relationships and to feel dissatisfied with inequity.
  • Maintenance of relationships occurs through balance and stability.
  • Relationships where people put more in than they recieve or they recieve more than they put in are inequitable.
  • Inequity leads to dissatifaction and possible dissolution. 
  • Recognition of inequity gives a chance for relationship to be saved by making adjustments.
  • Relationships may alternate between balance and imbalance. 
  • Motivation is needed to return to a state of equity. 
  • The greater the imbalance the greater the efforts to realign the relationship.
6 of 9

Equity Theory

Walster et al (1978) 

saw equity based of 4 principles


Profit Rewards are maximised and costs minimised

Distribution Trade offs and compensations are negotiated to achieve fairness in relationship

Dissatisfaction The greater the degree of percieved unfairness, the greater the sense of dissatidfaction

Realignment If restoring equity is possible, maintenance will continue, with attempts  made to realign equity

7 of 9

Research - Equity Theory

Argyle (1977)

FOUND - people in close relationships dont think in terms of rewards and costs unless they feel dissatisfied implying that equity isnt a valid explanation of realtionship maintenance. 

Murstein and MacDonald (1983)


FOUND - that conscious concern with 'getting a fair deal' especially in short term makes compatability hard to acheive especially between married couples.

Dainton (2003) 

studied 219 individuals in romantic relationships 

FOUND - those in relationships of percieved inequity had low relationship satisfaction but were motivated to return to an equitable state to maintain their relationship.

SUGGESTS that equity is a main factor in relationship satisfaction and maintenance. 

8 of 9

Evaluation - Equity Theory


  • Still portrays people as selfish.
  • Sprecher (1986) - believes that close relationships are too complex to allow for precise assessment of various rewards and costs invovled in establishing equity.
  • Mills and Clark (1982) - believe that it isnt possible to measure and assess equity within loving relationships as much input is emotional and therefore unquantifiable.
9 of 9




wonderful notes, in great detail. thanks 



Similar Psychology resources:

See all Psychology resources »See all Relationships resources »