Social Exchange Theory Examples: Understanding the Concept

Social exchange theory is a concept that explores the social interactions between individuals and how they are influenced by personal interests and benefits. The theory suggests that people engage in social exchanges with others based on what they can receive in return. In this article, we will explore the concept of social exchange theory and provide some examples to help you understand it better.

What is Social Exchange Theory?

Social exchange theory is a sociological concept that seeks to explain how people interact with one another. It focuses on the idea that social interactions are based on a cost-benefit analysis, where individuals weigh the rewards and costs of engaging with others. The rewards could be anything from material goods to emotional support, whereas costs could include time, effort, or emotional investment.

According to this theory, social exchanges occur when two or more individuals share something of value with one another. However, these exchanges are not always equal; one person may benefit more than the other. For example, if someone helps you move house but expects you to do something for them in return later, this is an example of a social exchange.

Examples of Social Exchange Theory

1. Friendship

Friendship is an excellent example of social exchange theory in action. When two people become friends, they each gain something from the relationship.

They may share interests or hobbies and enjoy spending time together. However, maintaining a friendship requires effort and investment from both parties. If one person feels like they are putting in more effort than the other, it could lead to conflict.

2. Marriage

Marriage is another great example of social exchange theory at work. When two people get married, they form a partnership where each person contributes something valuable to the relationship. This contribution could be anything from financial support to emotional stability or physical affection.

However, maintaining a successful marriage requires a lot of effort and investment from both partners. If one person feels like they are doing more than the other, it could lead to resentment and conflict.

3. Workplace

The workplace is an excellent example of social exchange theory because it involves many different people with various interests and motivations. Employees work for their employers in exchange for a salary, benefits, and job security. However, the employer also gains something valuable from the relationship by having a productive employee who contributes to the success of the company.

If an employee feels like they are not receiving enough benefits or rewards for their effort, they may be less motivated to work hard or even leave their job altogether.


In conclusion, social exchange theory is a powerful concept that can help us understand why we interact with others in certain ways. By understanding how social exchanges work, we can build better relationships with others based on mutual benefit and respect. Whether it’s in our personal or professional lives, social exchange theory provides a lens through which we can view our interactions with others and make better decisions about how to engage with them.