IntroductionIn our daily life, we constantlyencounter situations where we are giving favor and assistance in return forsomething else received in the past, or in anticipation of receiving somethingelse in the future, which is easy to understandin that people who give something to others expect the same (or more) fromothers, and similarly, those that get something from others are pressurized toreturn the same to them. These very popular circumstancess can be explained inlight of social exchange theory (SET). This paper will first begin with briefhistory of the SET.
Then, I will move on with its basic content as well as thebasic concepts of the SET, which is followed by the application of this theoryas hypothetical framework in various disciplines. Finally, this essay will endwith some examples of the familar situations in my daily life reflecting theSET along with my comments.Brief historyThe theory has rootsin economics, psychologyand sociology. Going back to the early origin, theSET has surfaced in the middle of the 21st century. According to Wikipedia, the SET has been derived from thework of Homans (1958), Thibaut and Kelley(1959), Blau (1964), and Cook and Emerson (1987). “Social Behavior as Exchange” published in1958 presents sociologist Homans’ view that exchange betweenindividuals, tangible or intangible,continues because each finds the others’ behavior reinforcing to some degree, i.e.more or less rewarding or costly.
Thibaut and Kelley (1959) are recognized for focusingtheir studies within the theory on the psychological concepts, the dyad andsmall group in “The Social Psychologyof Groups”. Blau (1964) argued that it is possible to understand socialstructure and events that occur within social structures by looking first atindividual processes that occur between people and then building on them.Blau’s theory combines principles from operant psychology and econornics toprovide a conceptual framework for the analysis of social relations. Theapproach of Cook and Emerson (1987) focused on the exchange relation as themost elementary unit of analysis rather than the behavior or action, takinghypotheses from operant psychology and applied these to human social leaming,specifically their application to individuals. They presented a more generaltheoretical framework for analyzing social interactions, atternpting to linkindividuals involved in social exchange relations together to form structuresor networks. Basic content and concepts SET is defined in Wikipedia as: a socialpsychological and sociologicalperspective that explains socialchange and stability as a process ofnegotiated exchanges between parties. Social exchange theory posits that human relationships are formed by the use of a subjective cost-benefitanalysis and the comparison ofalternativesCherry (2017) further explained thataccording to this theory, people tend to weighthe prospective benefits and risks of social relationships in order to maximizebenefits and minimize costs.
In other words, when we enter a relationship, weare inclined to evaluate the rewards we are likely to gain and the costswe are willing to pay. If the rewards outweigh the risks , we willcontinue to develop the relationship and viceversa (Liu, Vol?i?, & Gallois, 2015). Human interactions and exchanges areperceived in SET as a kind of results-driven social behavior, in which is theconcept of cost and rewards is primary. This means that the outcome of aparticular relationship is assessed by the comparison between the rewardsderived from a relationship and the costs incurred in that relationship. Rewardsrefer to “pleasures, satisfactions, and gratifications the person enjoys” whilecosts are defined as “any factors that operate to inhibit or deter theperformance of a sequence of behavior” (Thibaut & Kelley, 1959, p. 12). Or asLiu, Vol?i?, & Gallois (2015) stated”The rewards of human relationships can be expressed in the form ofsatisfaction, happiness, self-esteem, acceptance, and friendship. The costs mayinvolve money, time, unhappiness, dissatisfaction, losing face, and frustration.
“(p. 230). Basically, rewards are positive feelings while costs are negativeones. It suggests that individuals in certain relationships intentionally orunintentionally consider the balance and measure the disparity between rewardsand costs, and then consequently regulate their own maintenance behaviors usedin that relationship. From the social exchange perspective, rewards and costsare assessed in an overall rating. The relational outcome value of a particularrelationship could be transcribed into a mathematical equation as follows:outcome = rewards – costs (Thibaut & Kelley, 1959).
More specifically, inthe work by Dainton and Zelley (2005), specified relational rewards are viewedas pleasant benefits whereas relational costs are supposed as unpleasantdrawbacks; therefore, individuals obtain positive outcome value when therewards outweigh the cost and vice versa. According to Social Work Degree Guide (n.d.
)., we should include cultural values when analyzingthe decisions of different societies as every culture has their own unique wayof judging value, costs and rewards. For example, Asian societies, such asChina and Japan, are collective cultures that emphasize group harmony andsacrifice for the group.
Therefore, certain individual costs, such as personalfreedom or happiness, are not as important as in individualized cultures. Infact, the negative costs of social disapproval are more severe in collectiveAsian cultures.Application in various disciplinesSince its inception, the exchangeframework has captured the interest of investigators throughout the socialsciences (namely social psychology and anthropology), political science to thefield of law, to name a few. In the study by Nord (1969), exchange theory proved: to provide a useful vehicle for dataintegration and generation of new hypotheses about social conformity and the model allows for theprocess of social conformity to be considered in dynamic terms, treating the influence source and influencedperson simultaneously (p. 174)Sociologists have found the frameworkfruitful in examining interorganizational relations (Levine & White, 1960).These experts argued that interaction among organizations can be viewed within the framework of anexchange model like that suggested by Homans and that such model is useful in understanding not only health agency interaction but also relationships within other specific systems. They added the possibilityof applying this skeleton in explaining interaction among organizationsbelonging to different systems; moreover, the SET is believed to have obviousvalue in explaining interaction amongunits or departments within a single large-scale organization.
Rapoport andChammah (1965) have used a form of exchange theory to account for conflict,negotiation, and decision making in both the interpersonal and theinternational arenas. In the field of politics, Waldman (1972) relied upon theexchange framework to integrate understanding of wide-ranging politicalactivities. He emphasized that the exchange paradigm is helpful to”explain the degree of governmental power andresponsiveness in the allocation of values”, and “the nature of theparticular policy areas in which governments are most likely to intervene”(p. 118) as well as “to analyze the nature and degree of cooperationbetween different party organizations in different contexts”, and”the nature of leadership within parties in various settings” (p.121). SET is also applied to elucidate religious behaviour, arguing that individuals make choices about religiousbehaviour based on their evaluation of the maximum benefits, and religiousbehaviour can be understood as social exchange.
( Barrow& Kuvalanka, 2011; Corcoran,2013).Real-life examples and commentsThe implication of SET can be foundin almost every aspect of life. Most obvious is the so-called “envelopeculture”. It seems that when people do a certain favor for a person ofhigh position, that other person, no matter how exalted he/she happens to be,should, in common fairness, do something in return.
Under such an assumption, people, from work place togovernment or even educational institutions, exploit that “fairness”in the hope of gaining some “return benefit” from the relationshipwith those in higher position. It is generally supposed that the more “envelopes”or the bigger gifts one offers, the easier it may be for him/her to getpromotion (work place), to have things done smoothly (administrative procedures)and to get the diploma or higher grade (education). When it comes tocomparing between cost and rewards, there are ample situations around us that revealthe framework of SET. Employees who work extremely hard but are not acknowledged for their efforts mayswitch their jobs to another that is more high-paid, or where they get the samebenefits for lesser effort. Similarly, when employers intendto hire or fire someone, they have to weigh the pros and cons before coming toa decision.A bachelorette, while choosing a prospective groom from several alternatives,may settle for one who is caring, fun, and handsome – things she considers asrewards while accepting the fact that he is not as rich as the others – apotential risk in the relationship.
When we join some club, e.g. a dancingclub, and we find that a man in the club dances very gracefully, we may want tostart a relationship with him in the hope of getting his guidance in dancinglater on. Mentioned above areonly very common situations springing from the concept of cost and rewards.
This is not to say that all relationships maintain an economic perception. Somerelationships endure the costs and other hazards for the sake of love orrelation. Typically, parents and their children do not equally share costs andrewards in favor of children; however, hardlyever do parents stop the relationship, inother words, leave their children. Or there are also certain actionsthat are not counted forpractical motivation but for culture or just for fulfilling a duty in the senseof moral.
For example, after finishing a course, learners may present theinstructor a small gift just to express their gratitude and respect (at least,in Vietnamese culture) or a teacher tries to prepare the lesson carefully andmakes great effort to help his/her students understand the lesson not becausehe/she wants to get somethings from the students but merely to execute his/herrole as teacher.In short, the SET istrue to some extent. It is applicable in matters of diverse areas. Inthese kinds of relationships, seeking rewards and deducing costs is usual and vital to the existence of a relationship and its success. However,as the concept of cost and rewards varies from culture to culture and not allrelationships are built on the framework of SET, it is recommended that weshould consider a relationship wisely and from different aspects so as not to misunderstandthe others’ actions in such manifoldrelationships