Social exchange theory is proposing that behavior mainly comes from a process that is
exchanged. The primary objective of this change is usually to maximize the benefits while
minimizing the costs. According to this theory, people are fond of weighing potential benefits as
well as the risks of social relationships (Blau, 2017). If the dangers prove to outweigh the
rewards, people in most cases will abandon or even terminate the relationship.
The genesis of Social exchange theory traces back to 1958 when a Sociologist of
American origin known as George Homans made a publication titled; “Social Behavior as
Exchange.” He devised a framework which was primarily built on a combination of basic
economics and behaviorism. In the following years, many studies have been done to expand the
parameters of Homan’s fundamental concepts (Cropanzano, 2017). This theory is based on the
fact that any relationship existing between two people is created through a process of Cost-
This theory is unique in its way because it does not only measure relationships based on
emotions. However, it is a systematic process which relies on mathematics and logic to come up
with a balance in any relationship. There are, however, a few assumptions of the theory that can
be pointed out (Huang, 2016). People involved in the interaction are likely to maximize their
profits, and most gratification among humans comes from other people.
The theory that is used in studies
In sociology, social exchange theory is a social psychological perspective which explains
social change as well as the process of negotiating the exchanges between the parties
(Paraskevaidis, 2017). Social exchange theory posts that all the relationships that are formed
between humans are initiated using a subjective cost-benefit analysis and the comparison of the
An application of this theory can be seen in the interaction of asking someone out on a
date. If the person agrees to go out with you on a date, you have obtained the reward that you
were looking for, and there are high chances that you will ask the same person or someone else
for a date out (Yan, 2016). However, if the person you asked refused, there are high chances that
you will probably shy away from repeating the same in the future.
Blau, Peter. Exchange and power in social life. Routledge, 2017.
Cropanzano, Russell, et al. "Social exchange theory: A critical review with theoretical
remedies." Academy of Management Annals 11.1 (2017): 479-516.
Huang, Yueng-Hsiang, et al. "Beyond safety outcomes: An investigation of the impact of safety
job satisfaction, employee engagement and turnover using social exchange theory as the
theoretical framework." Applied ergonomics 55 (2016): 248-257.
Paraskevaidis, Pavlos, and Konstantinos Andriotis. "Altruism in tourism: Social exchange theory
altruistic surplus phenomenon in host volunteering." Annals of Tourism Research 62
Yan, Zhijun, et al. "Knowledge sharing in online health communities: A social exchange theory
perspective." Information & Management 53.5 (2016): 643-653.