If you’re interested in understanding human behavior, you may have come across the term ‘Social Exchange Theory’. This theory is often used to explain why people engage in certain social interactions and how they benefit from these interactions. In this article, we’ll delve deeper into what Social Exchange Theory is all about.

What Is Social Exchange Theory?

Social Exchange Theory is a theoretical perspective that explains social change and stability as a process of negotiated exchanges between parties. It suggests that people weigh the potential benefits and risks of engaging in certain social interactions before they decide to commit to them.

The theory suggests that individuals engage in social interactions because they anticipate that the rewards will outweigh the costs. Rewards can be anything from material possessions, emotional support, or even social status. Costs can include time, effort, or even emotional distress.

Examples of Social Exchange Theory

To understand Social Exchange Theory better, let’s look at some practical examples:

In each of these examples, the individual weighs the potential rewards against the costs before deciding whether to engage in the given activity.

Criticisms of Social Exchange Theory

While Social Exchange Theory has been widely accepted as an accurate representation of human behavior, it has also faced some criticisms. One criticism is that it assumes that individuals are rational decision-makers who always weigh the potential rewards and costs before making decisions. However, this isn’t always the case since emotions and other factors can influence decision-making.

Another criticism is that Social Exchange Theory assumes that all social interactions involve give-and-take. However, some interactions may be purely altruistic, with individuals engaging in them without any expectation of receiving rewards.


Social Exchange Theory is a valuable tool for understanding human behavior and why people engage in certain social interactions. By considering the potential rewards and costs of these interactions, we can gain insight into why people make the decisions they do.

While the theory isn’t perfect and has its limitations, it remains a useful framework for understanding human behavior and how we interact with each other.