Social exchange theory is a sociological concept that explains human behavior in terms of benefits and costs. According to this theory, people engage in social interactions based on the perceived rewards and costs associated with the interaction. In this article, we will explore how social exchange theory explains helping behavior.

The Basics of Social Exchange Theory

Social exchange theory can be traced back to George Homans, who first introduced the concept in the 1950s. The theory suggests that people engage in social interactions based on a cost-benefit analysis. In other words, people are motivated to engage in behaviors that offer them more rewards than costs.

According to this theory, rewards can come in various forms, such as financial gains, social status, or emotional satisfaction. Similarly, costs can also take different forms, such as emotional distress or loss of time and effort.

How Does Social Exchange Theory Explain Helping?

Helping behavior is an act of kindness aimed at benefiting others without expecting anything tangible in return. So how does social exchange theory explain why people help others?

According to the social exchange theory perspective on helping behavior, individuals are more likely to help others when they perceive the rewards of helping outweigh its costs. For instance, if an individual helps their neighbor move furniture because they feel good about it and want to strengthen their relationship with their neighbor (reward), they are more likely to engage in this activity than if they feel tired or don’t see any benefit from helping (cost).

It’s worth noting that while the rewards and costs associated with helping behavior can be subjective and vary across individuals and situations, individuals are generally motivated by self-interest when deciding whether to help others.

Types of Rewards

Rewards associated with helping behavior can vary widely depending on the situation. Some common types of rewards include:

Types of Costs

Like rewards, costs associated with helping behavior can also vary widely. Some common types of costs include:

The Role of Reciprocity in Social Exchange Theory

Reciprocity is an essential component of social exchange theory. It refers to the idea that people tend to respond in kind when they receive a benefit from others. For instance, if someone helps us move furniture, we are more likely to help them with a similar task in the future.

Reciprocity plays a critical role in explaining why people engage in helping behavior even when the benefits are not immediately apparent. When individuals help others without any expectation of reward, they create a norm of reciprocity that encourages others to do the same.

The Bottom Line

Social exchange theory provides a useful framework for understanding why people engage in helping behavior. According to this theory, individuals are more likely to help others when they perceive the rewards of helping outweigh its costs. By understanding the underlying motivations for helping behavior, we can create more effective strategies to encourage and promote pro-social behavior in society.