Social exchange theory proposes that social behavior is the result of an exchange process. The purpose of this exchange is to maximize benefits and minimize costs. According to this theory, people weigh the potential benefits and risks of social relationships. When the risks outweigh the rewards, people will terminate or abandon that relationship.
Costs involves things that are seen as negatives to the individual such as having to put money, time and effort into a relationship. The benefits are thing things that the individual gets out the relationship such as fun, friendship, companionship and social support.
Social exchange theory suggests that we essentially take the benefits and minus the costs in order to determine how much a relationship is worth. Positive relationships are those in which the benefits outweigh the costs, while negative relationships occur when the costs are greater than the benefits.
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Homans, G. C. (1961) Social Behavior, New York: Harcourt Brace and World.
Thibaut, J. W. and Kelley, H. H. (1959) The social Psychology of Groups, New York: Wiley.