Social Exchange Theory

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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.

Evaluation

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

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