This is a sociological and psychological perspective that attempts to explain human relationships in terms of cost and benefits. It has its roots in sociology, economics and psychology. It brings out aspects of: Cost, Benefit, Satisfaction, Outcome (difference between benefits and costs), Dependence and The chances of having a better relationship with someone else.
Satisfaction alone can’t determine whether to stay or terminate a given relationship. This is because, sometimes people do stay in economically and emotionally draining relationships while others abandon good relationships for the sake of it, or in search of a better alternative. Moreover if there are many alternatives available, one is likely to be less dependent on the relationship.
It argues that human relations are driven by the rewards and punishments that an act may evoke. It argues that the decisions that humans make are driven by the cost and benefits that can be accrued to them as a result of a particular decision. Therefore social relations are an outcome of a process of exchange with the main purpose of maximizing benefits and minimizing cost.
Furthermore, if a relationship has benefits, one may decide to hold on to it, as opposed to when there are no benefits. In most cases humans readily terminate a relationship when the cost outweighs the benefits of being in that particular relationship. It suggests that all decisions people make are driven by self interest. People form and maintain relations that propagate their own self interests. People tend to maintain social relationships that benefit them and discard the ones which don’t.
The benefits may consist of the following: financial gain, material comfort, emotional comfort and social status. The kind of relationship we deserve.
For example, people who give expect others to do the same for them. Moreover, those who get from others feel obligated to return the favor. What a person gives is viewed as the cost and what the individual receives is the benefit. All relationships are based on a give and take basis although the balance of input and output is not always equal.
The theory is very applicable in modern day especially in social, economic and emotional aspects. Aspects of this theory are evident in our day to day social life. The theory looks into social change and stability as a process of negotiated exchanges between parties. All human relations are made via use of a cost-benefit analysis.
Socially, no one is totally independent; people depend on each other and therefore form relationships which the feel will benefit them in one way or another. For example friends will remain friends only if they reap benefits from each other-they must have a kind of a symbiosis relationship. This is also applicable in marriage, if one partner feels that they always put in a lot into the relationship and gets no rewards for their work; then the marriage is likely to fail.
Economically, if an individual decides to invest in a business, he/she must reap more benefits/rewards as compared to the cost/ effort put into it. If not, the individual may be forced to dissolve the business. Emotionally, if an individual gets emotional support out of a relationship, then they are likely to treasure and hold on to it by all means possible.
The theory reduces human interactions to a rational process that is driven by self interests. This is not always the case because some people do things just to help others and not because they think that their actions will be followed by a reward. For example some people lend a helping hand to the needy in society and ask to remain anonymous. Therefore people’s actions are not always driven by mere self interest.
Individuals are not as selfish and calculative as this theory portrays them to be.
Moreover, it advocates for openness which may not always be the best option in certain situations. It views intimacy as the main goal of a relationship. This may not be true applied to some cases. The theory reduces human interaction to a purely economically driven process.
The theory assumes that the ultimate goal of a relationship is intimacy when this might not always be the case.
The theory argues that relationships grow progressively over time; this is not always the case as some relationships might skip steps or go backwards in terms of intimacy. Some people grow close to each other very fast. Culturally, its application is almost impossible as it’s strongly seated in an individualist mindset.
To conclude, social exchange theory explains social relationships in terms of self interest. To a large extent, it’s true that people will only maintain relationships that work to their advantage and let go of those that does not benefit them. Individuals may not always agree that they are always in pursuit of relationships that help them propagate their self interests.