What Is the Difference Between Social Exchange Theory and Equity Theory?

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Vincent White

Social Exchange Theory and Equity Theory are two popular concepts in social psychology that explain how individuals form and maintain relationships. While both theories deal with the concept of fairness, they differ in their assumptions and implications. In this article, we will explore the difference between Social Exchange Theory and Equity Theory.

Social Exchange Theory

Social Exchange Theory is a concept developed by George Homans in the 1950s. This theory suggests that people act out of self-interest, seeking to maximize rewards and minimize costs in their relationships with others. According to this theory, people make rational choices about whether to continue or end a relationship based on the perceived benefits and drawbacks associated with it.

The Social Exchange Theory assumes that individuals are motivated by self-interest and seek to maximize their rewards while minimizing their costs. The theory proposes that people engage in social interactions with others when they believe that the benefits outweigh the costs.

Key Concepts of Social Exchange Theory

  • Rewards: Any positive outcome or experience an individual receives from a relationship.
  • Costs: Any negative outcome or experience an individual may face from a relationship.
  • Outcome: The result of subtracting costs from rewards, which helps individuals decide whether to continue or end a relationship.
  • Comparison Level (CL): An individual’s expectation for what they believe they should receive from a relationship based on past experiences.
  • Comparison Level for Alternatives (CLalt): An individual’s expectation for what they could receive from an alternative relationship.

Implications of Social Exchange Theory

According to Social Exchange Theory, if an individual believes that they are not receiving enough rewards from a relationship compared to its associated costs, they may choose to end it. Similarly, if an individual perceives another person as having more attractive alternatives, they may choose to end the relationship. Consequently, this theory explains how and why individuals interact with each other.

Equity Theory

Equity Theory, developed by John Stacey Adams, suggests that people are motivated by fairness and equality in their relationships with others. According to this theory, individuals are more likely to be satisfied in a relationship when they perceive it to be fair.

Equity Theory assumes that individuals strive for fairness in their relationships with others. The theory proposes that individuals compare their own input/output ratio to those of others in their social group.

Key Concepts of Equity Theory

  • Input: Any contribution an individual makes to a relationship.
  • Output: Any reward an individual receives from a relationship.
  • Comparison Level (CL): An individual’s expectation for what they believe they should receive from a relationship based on past experiences.

Implications of Equity Theory

Equity Theory suggests that people are more likely to be satisfied in a relationship when the input/output ratio is perceived as equitable or fair. If an individual perceives inequity, they may choose to change their inputs or outputs or withdraw from the relationship entirely. Furthermore, this theory explains how perceptions of fairness affect behavior in social relationships.

Difference Between Social Exchange Theory and Equity Theory

While both Social Exchange Theory and Equity Theory deal with fairness in social relationships, there are significant differences between them. Social Exchange Theory assumes that individuals act out of self-interest and make rational choices based on the perceived benefits and costs associated with a relationship. Conversely, Equity Theory assumes that individuals strive for fairness and equality in their social relationships.

The fundamental difference between these two theories is that Social Exchange Theory emphasizes the importance of rewards and costs, while Equity Theory emphasizes the importance of fairness. Social Exchange Theory proposes that people will continue a relationship if the benefits outweigh the costs, whereas Equity Theory suggests that people will continue a relationship if they perceive it to be fair.

Conclusion

Social Exchange Theory and Equity Theory are two fundamental concepts in social psychology that explain how individuals form and maintain relationships. While both theories deal with fairness in social relationships, they differ in their assumptions and implications.

Social Exchange Theory emphasizes the importance of rewards and costs, while Equity Theory emphasizes the importance of fairness. Understanding these two theories can help us better understand how individuals interact with each other in social relationships.