The Social Exchange Theory
In everyday interactions people are always looking to have a positive experience among those with whom they interact. According to the Social Exchange theory, with each interaction an individual has with another, that individual attempts to maximize the positive outcomes and minimize the negative. The purpose of this paper is to apply the Social Exchange theory to an authentic real life situation to best illustrate the theory and the key concepts that it holds. In applying the social exchange theory from demonstration, to application, to then explanation, a better understanding in terms of the value of the theory will be shown, as well as the function that it has in everyday life. An episode that best characterizes the Social Exchange theory is one that involves my ex-girlfriend, and myself. We had been having our share of problems when, one day, every argument and disagreement we had culminated into this moment when everything just seemed to explode. She had been angry with me for having left San Diego to attend school in Santa Barbara and I was angry with her for her being angry. I wanted support, and instead, all I received was a guilt trip about how I was never there for her. After five minutes of talking, or rather complaining, we both agreed to disagree. In that instant the two of us had the realization, as many couples do, that it just was not working and the negatives far outweighed the positives. There was no minimizing the negative outcomes because everything had a negative ending. Later, the Social Exchange theory will be
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applied to this episode, but for now it is best to comprehend how the Social Exchange theory works. To fully understand the Social Exchange theory is to understand its concept. The Social Exchange theory, as stated by Unger and Johnson, is that in which, "human behavior is governed by the desire to maximize positive experiences and minimize negative ones" (604). People constantly evaluate the rewards and costs of their relationship as well as the rewards and costs of interaction with another individual. Rewards and costs can be tangible, such as money or gifts, or psychological, such as social support or intellectual stimulation (Unger & Johnson 604). According to Unger and Johnson, "if the reward/cost balance is more favorable than that of other potential relationships, the person will remain in the relationship, if the costs outweigh the rewards and an alternative relationship with more favorable outcomes is available, the person will leave the existing relationship in favor of the alternative" (604). Yet each reward and cost is different to each individual. To better understand reward and costs is to better understand each individual. The primary theorists, John Thibaut and Harold Kelley, made a list of assumptions that the Social Exchange theory is based on. This list falls into two categories; one that focuses on individuals, and one that describes the social exchange between two people (Unger & Johnson 604). The assumptions that the Social Exchange theory makes are about human nature and the nature of relationships. The first, as mentioned earlier, is that of reward and punishment. Humans seek rewards and avoid
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punishment, which is consistent with the conceptualization of drive reduction (West & Turner 182). As stated by West and Turner, "this approach assumes that people's behaviors are motivated by some internal drive mechanism" (182). It is only until that person has satisfied that internal drive mechanism that they feel fulfilled. The second assumption is that the standards that people use to evaluate costs and rewards change over time and from person to person (West & Turner 182). This statement suggests that the theory must take diversity into concern (West & Turner 182). No two people are the...