Social Exchange Theory

Social Exchange Theory: Critique

In everyday interactions, people are always striving to have a positive experience among those whom they interact with. Social Exchange Theory (SET) is based on the notion that people think about their relationships in economic terms (West 186). People will consider the cost of being in that relationship and compare them to the rewards they receive from that same relationship. Cost would consist of any negative elements of the relationship, such as effort put into the relationship. Rewards would consist of any positive elements in the relationships, such as comfort. Social Exchange theorists argue that people assess their relationships in terms of cost and rewards (Rosenfeld 1284). Every relationship will require some time and effort on part of the participants. The Social Exchange theory explains how people will determine if their relationship is worth continuing. This is called the value of relationship. The theory argues you can calculate this value by the rewards minus costs. Positive relationships are ones with a positive value, the rewards outweigh the costs. Negative relationships are ones with a negative value, the costs outweigh the rewards. The Social Exchange theory provides evidence to be able to predict that a worth of a current relationship influences its outcomes. Positive relationships are expected to continue, while negative relationships will probably end.

Social Exchange theories are based upon several important factors about human nature and the nature of relationships (Heath 103). SET is based off a metaphor, relationships are like economic exchanges. Many assumptions stem from the notion that people view life and relationships as a marketplace. First, SET states that h...

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...ave realized it is near impossible to generalize the key terms needed in SET. It was very interesting to research this topic and I learned a lot. Thank you!

Works Cited


West, R., & Turner, L. H. (2007). Introducing communication theory: Analysis and application. (3rd Ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Scholarly Sources

Emerson, R. Social Exchange Theory. Annual Review of Sociology, 2, 335-362. Retrieved , from

Giddens, A., & Dallmayr, F. R. (1982). Profiles and critiques in social theory. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Heath, A. F. (1976). Rational choice & social exchange: a critique of exchange theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Rosenfeld, M. J. A Critique of Exchange Theory in Mate Selection. American Journal of Sociology, 1284-1325.
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