Social Exchange Theory2Application of:The Social Exchange TheoryIn 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 Social Exchange Theory3applied 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 Social Exchange Theory4punishment, which is consistent with the conceptualization of drive reduction (West & Turner 182). As stated by West and Turner, this approach assumes that peoples 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 same therefore their ideas of what they want and need, can change over time. The third assumption states that humans are rational. According to West and Turner this is critical to the Social Exchange Theory (182).
The theory rests on the notion that within the limits of the information that is available to them, people will calculate the costs and rewards of a given situation and guide their behaviors accordingly West & Turner 182). Meaning that people are always calculating the rewards and costs for each situation they are put into, and those rewards or costs determine the outcome of their decision-making.Along with assumptions for the Social Exchange there is another factor that plays a key role. Relating to the concept of cost and rewards is the comparison level or CL. The comparison level is a standard representing what people feel they should receive in the way of rewards and costs from a particular relationship (West & Turner 184). Therefore the individual weighs the pros and cons of the relationship. If the cons are an Social Exchange Theory5acceptable amount, then the relationship should very well stay the same.
However, if the costs far outweigh the rewards, then there is what is called a comparison level for alternatives (CLalt). As stated by West and Turner, this refers to the lowest level of relational rewards a person is willing to accept given available rewards from alternative relationships of being alone (185). Signifying that the CLalt measures how people evaluate a relationship compared to the realistic alternatives to that relationship (West & Turner 185). In applying the Social Exchange theory to the episode of my girlfriend and I the first, second, and third assumptions can all be used to best explain the strain in the relationship. The standards that people use to evaluate the costs and rewards of a relationship change over time and from person to person. What my girlfriend and I needed from each other had begun to change, putting a tension on our bond.
Therefore the costs began to far outweigh the rewards. The factor of being in different cities and not being together for emotional and physical support was enough to re-evaluate what we both needed from the relationship. Remembering the statement mentioned earlier that no two people are the same therefore their ideas of what they want and need can change over time. Case in point, my girlfriend and I. Along with these aspects is the feature of the comparison level, or CL, that can be identified as well. When both of our concepts of what we needed out of the relationship Social Exchange Theory6changed, then the comparison level alternative (Clalt) was utilized. This meant that even the lowest level of relational rewards that we had together was nowhere near the level of rewards from the alternative relationship of being alone.
All of these aspects listed above can be seen in the episode that was used. However one such event that took place that is not related to the Social Exchange theory was that of the Social Penetration theory. The Exploratory Affective exchange, which is a concept of the Social Penetration theory, is used more in cases of getting to know someone. It was in fact used in the episode that was given. The Exploratory Affective exchange is used when talking more about likes and dislikes, as well as things that are important to you and the way that you feel about them.
It pertains to the episode used, in the sense that the two of us were in fact new people. New in the sense that our ideas of what we wanted and needed had changed, therefore, to get a better understanding of each other, we needed to explore and inquire on what the other felt was best. As a result there was this crossover of the Exploratory Affective exchange from the Social Penetration theory. The utility of the Social Exchange theory is useful in all everyday life. Each individual is looking to have a positive exchange with another and to maximize his/her constructive outcomes. Everyday communicative interaction is different, whether it be getting to know someone or to accomplish a mutual task.
Yet the one thing that remains the same is the desire that the individual has to be rewarded for their interactions, rather than it being cost full to the person in terms of time, negative feelings, or putdowns. The Social Exchange theory is useful in everyday interactions due to the fact that it contains Social Exchange Theory7the central and basic concepts for why individuals interact, which to maximize their positive outcomes.With the use of applying this theory to an episode as a demonstration, an application, and then an explanation, it is easy to see how the Social Exchange theory is related to everyday situations.
Not only can the theory be applied to amorous relationships, but to that of friendships. The utility of the theory is seen in just about every type of interaction and is key to better understanding why relationships, friendships, or any mutual interaction, for that matter, turn out being costly or rewarding.Social Exchange Theory8ReferencesJennifer Unger & C. Anderson Johnson, Explaining Exercise Behavior and Satisfaction with Social Exchange Theory, Perceptual and Motor Skills 81 (1995): 603-608.West, Richard, & Turner, Lynn H. (2000).
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