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Social exchange theory: what it is and who are its authors

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A topic that has been widely studied since psychology existed is that concerning social relationships, and that is that the human being is a bio-psycho-social individual. There is no way to separate human nature from interpersonal relationships.

Social exchange theory mixes aspects of basic economics with aspects of psychology, and explains how we unconsciously seek to obtain the greatest benefit from our social relationships at the lowest cost. In this article we will see his approach, we will see who have been the main exponents of the theory of social exchange throughout history, and we will review what the level of acceptance has been like throughout weather.

  • Related article: "What is social psychology?"

Social exchange theory: what is it?

Social exchange theory states that In the emergence of social relations there is a cost-benefit evaluation process. Where subjects discriminate whether it is worth establishing relationships with other individuals or not.

Individualism and hedonism are its fundamental bases, which speak of the fact that all behaviors are associated with personal achievement (including social ones) and that the only goal of the human being is to achieve pleasure and satisfaction individual.

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The emergence of this theory dates back to 1956, when John Thibaut and Harold Kelley presented it for the first time. Thibaut and Kelly stated in their theory of social exchange that a relationship between two or more people must result in some kind of gratification for all parties involved, or else the relationship would disappear. To avoid the dissolution of the group, there had to be a reward, regardless of whether it was material or psychological.

Later, in 1958, it would be the American sociologist George C. Homans who gave fame to this theory, with the publication of his work Social Theory As Exchange. Homans explained in his article that social interaction represented a tangible or intangible exchange, where There had to be a benefit or a cost for the participants, and that this is what would determine the future of the relationship.

Taking concepts from economic matters, Homans' theory of social exchange indicates that people inevitably They make comparisons between the alternatives that their relationships present to them., and in the end they will end up cultivating more those that generate a greater benefit at a lower cost.

Variations of the theory

Thibaut and Kelly talked about collective benefit in small groups, while Homans emphasized his work on individual benefit. He stated that in all group relationships the subjects always seek to obtain a personal benefit.

Over time Other theorists joined this trend, among them Peter Blau and Richard M. Emerson, who followed Homans' line of individual benefit. Lévi-Strauss, a famous French anthropologist, also contributed to this theory from the generalized exchange approach, which sees relationships as the means to an end. For example, marriages arranged for social and economic convenience.

Acceptance and criticism

This theory had a great impact within psychological schools. long supported by behavioral paradigms, who welcomed the fact that it was difficult to quantify given its simplicity, in addition to the fact that it fit perfectly with the behaviorist theory of stimuli and responses. With the passage of time and the subsequent appearance of cognitive and constructivist paradigms, social exchange theory lost weight within the scientific field. Through these lines of research it was demonstrated that social behavior behaviors do not respond solely to reward interests.

Through the new psychological currents that were emerging, it was determined that social relationships do not They are an exact science, taking into account that they are subject to emotional variables and behavioral factors. learned.

  • You may be interested: "Top 10 psychological theories"

Social relationships according to modern psychology

As far as social relations are concerned, modern psychology gives greater weight to the environment and culture as determining agents in the links we establish with other people. Human beings are complex individuals in various aspects, and social relationships do not escape this complexity. Although artificial intelligences are very close to the functioning of the human mind, something in which they have not been able to match it is the ability to feel affection for another organism.

Affection and affection come from very primitive structures of the human brain. (limbic system) and overcome any logical barrier they may find in their path. That is why when we really love a person we do so without taking their interests into account; for human beings, logic and social relationships do not necessarily go hand in hand.

In conclusion, it can be said that social exchange theory has served as a historical precedent within the field of social psychology. Giving rise to a wide variety of experiments over the years. The main reason why this theory collapsed lies in the lack of interest shown by the subjective processes that exist when relating to another person, and focused only on the stimuli.

Bibliographic references:

  • DeLamater, J. (2006). Handbook of social psychology. Springer.
  • West, R.; Turner, L. (2007). Introducing Communication Theory. McGraw Hill.

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