In social psychology, the Social Exchange Theory (SET) is a concept that explains how individuals evaluate their relationships based on the rewards and costs associated with them. SET suggests that people are more likely to stay in a relationship if the benefits outweigh the drawbacks, and vice versa. Let’s dive deeper into how this theory applies to relationships.
What is the Social Exchange Theory?
SET was first introduced by George Homans in 1958. According to him, social behavior is a result of an exchange process that aims to maximize benefits and minimize costs. This means that individuals constantly evaluate their interactions with others based on what they get out of them.
The Elements of Social Exchange Theory
There are three main elements of SET – rewards, costs, and alternatives. Let’s understand each of them in detail:
- Rewards: These are benefits or positive outcomes that an individual gets from a relationship. Examples include emotional support, companionship, financial aid, etc.
- Costs: These are negative outcomes or drawbacks associated with a relationship.
Examples include emotional stress, time commitment, financial strain, etc.
- Alternatives: These refer to other options available to an individual besides their current relationship. For example, finding a new job or moving to a new city can be alternative options for someone who is unhappy in their current situation.
How Does SET Apply to Relationships?
SET suggests that individuals weigh the rewards and costs associated with their relationships before deciding whether to stay in them or not. If the rewards outweigh the costs and there are no better alternatives available, they will likely continue with the relationship.
However, if the costs outweigh the rewards and there are better alternatives available, it’s likely that they will end the relationship and move on to something better.
Real-Life Examples of SET in Relationships
Let’s take a look at some real-life examples of how SET applies to relationships:
- A person may stay in an abusive relationship because the rewards, such as financial stability or emotional support, outweigh the costs of abuse.
- Someone may leave their partner if they find someone who can offer them more rewards, such as better financial stability or emotional compatibility.
- A friend may stop hanging out with another friend if the costs, such as constant negativity or criticism, outweigh the rewards of their friendship.
The Limitations of SET in Relationships
While SET provides a useful framework for understanding relationships, it has its limitations. Firstly, it assumes that individuals are rational and make decisions based on weighing the pros and cons. However, emotions and other external factors also play a significant role in decision-making.
Secondly, SET doesn’t account for the fact that some people may stay in a relationship even if the costs outweigh the rewards. This could be due to factors like fear of loneliness or societal pressure.
The Social Exchange Theory provides valuable insights into how individuals evaluate their relationships. By understanding this theory, we can gain a better understanding of why people stay in certain relationships and why they end others. However, it’s important to remember that emotions and external factors also play a role in decision-making.