Social exchange theory


Comparision level

  • Comparison levels (CL) are one measure of the profit in a relationship & it refers to the amount of reward a person thinks they deserve to get. 
  • It's influenced by previous relationships & social norms (affected by the media). If the person’s CL is high, they will think the relationship is worth pursuing.
  • People with high self-esteem are more likely to have a high CL (and low CL for those with low self-esteem) meaning the expectation of reward is greater.
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Comparision level for alternatives ( CLalt)

  • This involves a person considering whether they would get more rewards, and fewer costs, from another relationship, or from being single than in their current relationship. 
  • The theory states that the person will remain in the relationship if they think that the current relationship will give greater profit than the alternatives.
  • This is affected by the state of the current relationship - if it is satisfying, there is much less need to consider alternatives.
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Stages of relationship development

  • Sampling stage: exploring the rewards & costs of relationships through experimentation.

  • Bargaining stage: the beginning of a relationship, where the costs and rewards are identified through exchange and negotiation.

  • Commitment stage: costs and rewards become more predictable and the relationship becomes more stable- rewards increase, costs lessen.

  • Institutionalisation stage: the norms of the relationship are firmly established

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