Social Exchange Theory is a popular concept within the field of social psychology. It is based on a simple premise that people engage in social relationships because they expect to receive something in return. The reciprocity principle of Social Exchange Theory suggests that when two individuals exchange goods, services, or information, both parties expect to benefit from the exchange.

Key Concepts of Social Exchange Theory

1. Rewards and Costs

The core idea behind Social Exchange Theory is that people engage in social relationships because they expect to gain rewards and benefits from them. Rewards can be anything that an individual finds valuable, such as love, money, status, or companionship.

On the other hand, costs refer to anything that an individual perceives as negative or undesirable in a relationship. These costs can be emotional, psychological, or physical and can include things like stress, time commitment, effort required to maintain the relationship.

2. Outcome

Social Exchange Theory suggests that people evaluate their relationships based on their perceived outcomes – the net balance between rewards and costs. If an individual perceives that they are receiving more rewards than costs from a relationship, then they will continue to maintain it. However, if the balance tips towards more costs than rewards for an extended period of time, then they are likely to terminate the relationship.

3. Comparison Level

The comparison level is another essential concept of Social Exchange Theory. It refers to an individual’s standard for what they consider to be fair or acceptable within a particular relationship. For example, if an individual has high standards for what they consider as acceptable behavior within a romantic relationship and their partner fails to meet those standards consistently over time, then the individual may decide to end the relationship.

4. Comparison Level for Alternatives

The comparison level for alternatives is another important concept in Social Exchange Theory. It refers to an individual’s perception of what they could achieve in an alternative relationship. If an individual perceives that they can gain more rewards and benefits from an alternative relationship than their current one, then they may decide to leave their current relationship and seek a new one.

5. Equity Theory

Equity Theory is closely related to Social Exchange Theory. It suggests that people evaluate their relationships based on their perceptions of fairness or equity within the relationship. If an individual perceives that they are contributing more to the relationship than their partner, then they may feel resentful and may try to restore balance by reducing their contributions or seeking more rewards.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Social Exchange Theory is a useful framework for understanding why people engage in social relationships and how they evaluate them. It suggests that individuals engage in social relationships based on expectations of rewards, costs, outcomes, comparison levels, and equity. By understanding these key concepts, we can better understand our own motivations for engaging in social relationships and improve our ability to navigate them effectively.