Social Exchange Theory

HideShow resource information

Social Exchange Theory (Thibaut and Kelley, 1959)

  • Economic theory - states that relationships are formed on the basis of rewards and costs.
  • Relationships are a two-way process ie an interaction between two partners in terms of their own needs and expectations.
  • Maximise rewards, minimise costs.
  • If a partner supplies something we are short of eg emotional support we are more likely to want to be with them.
  • Relationship will be maintained as long as rewards exceed the costs.
  • Rewards → emotional support, financial support, positivity.
  • Costs → money, time wasted that could be spent with someone else.

Outcome = rewards - costs

Social exchange theory suggests that there are four stages in a relationship:

1.  Sampling - consider potential costs/rewards, compare to other relationships.

2.  Bargaining - give/receive rewards, test strength of the relationship.

3.  Commitment - relationship becomes predictable, know how to receive rewards.

4.  Institutionalisation - norms are developed, pattern of rewards/costs for each partner.

Comparison level - standard by which alternatives are judged ie a potential partner is compared to past relationships - if they are above the CL you are more likely to want to be with them, but if they are above the CL you will not want to be with them.


  • Cate and Lloyd (1988) - social exchange theory has some predictive value - the theory has been used to successfully predict how long a relatonship will…


No comments have yet been made

Similar Psychology resources:

See all Psychology resources »See all Relationships resources »