COM 270
Introduction to Theories of Human Communication

Lecture 11: Social Exchange Theory


I. Introduction

A. Social Exchange Theory (S.E.T.) is an off-shoot of Functional Theory. It is anchored in the work of George Casper Homans (1961), as explained in his book, The Human Group.

B. S.E.T. is based on the following assumptions:

1. Humans seek rewards and avoid punishments.

a. Reward = positive or favorable outcome or consequence

b. Cost = negative or unfavorable outcome or consequence

2. Humans are rational beings.

a. Humans choose those alternatives from which they expect the most profit.

b. Rewards being equal, humans choose the alternative from which they anticipate the fewest costs.

3. Humans evaluate costs and rewards differently over time, and from person to person.

C. S.E.T. argues that people are interested in getting the most out of their valuable resources (time, effort, money). We do not put time and effort into communication relationships that we feel we are getting little or nothing out of.

SUBWAY COMMERCIAL: "Do You Want to Be my Girlfiend?"

II. Propositions

A. Behavior that produces positive outcomes is likely to be repeated (Principle of Reward).

B. If an individual's behavior is rewarded in the past, the individual will continue the previous behavior (Principle of Experience).

C. The more valuable to a person is the result of his/her action, the more likely s/he is to perform the action. (Principle of Value of Outcome).

D. The more often in the recent past a person has received a particular reward, the less valuable any further unit of that reward becomes. (Principle of Diminishing Returns).

E. Those who receive more than they think they deserve are happy and will behave approvingly; those who receive less than they think they deserve are unhappy and will behave in a hostile manner (Principle of Distributive Justice)

Monkey Experiment






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