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 humans seek rewards and avoid punishment. People’s behaviors are motivated by internal desires. Peoples just want to please themselves. This entire process is rewarding. This is a main point of the Social Exchange theory because it helps us understand why people feel the drive to spend time together. Another crucial point of SET is hat humans are rational beings. As people will collect all the information given to them, they will calculate the costs and rewards of a given situation and behave accordingly. This also implies that when no reward behaviors are available, people will choose the last costly decision. Lastly, Social Exchange Theory assumes the standards people use to evaluate costs and rewards vary over time and from person to person. No one standard can be applied to everyone to determine what is a cost and what is a reward. This is an extremely important consideration because SET will be forced to continually be update.
Although Social Exchange Theory has generated a great amount of research, and is very heuristic it does have its doubters and has received some serious criticisms. There are four major critiques of the theory that need to be reviewed.