The various ideas that constitute social exchange theory are based on the observation that human beings survive and reproduce only by exchanging resources. The term social exchange” does not mean “social interaction”; rather, it refers to resource-based exchanges that occur between individuals. One key assumption is that human beings attempt to maximize benefits and rewards (actually rewards minus costs) by engaging in interactions with others.
The nature of the social exchange begins to affect individuals during their first encounters in terms of expectations and behavior toward one another. Should ensuing interactions be mutually rewarding, the tendency for partners to seek out one another grows stronger and the likelihood of future interactions greater. “Interdependence” is the state of affairs that exists when individuals become dependent on one another for umerous and significant rewards (Kelley et al., 1983). 

The rewards and costs relevant to close relationships are varied, and some are unique to specific relationships. Social rewards, such as the experience of intimacy and closeness, are major supports for the emergence and maintenance of relationships, whereas competition, aggression, and conflict are major costs. When interdependencies are strong, encompass diverse situations and activities, and recur over substantial periods, one can consider the individuals as being in a “close” relationship (Berscheid, Snyder, & Omoto, 1989). 
Two kinds of relationships may be identified depending on the equities involved: “Communal relationships” involve mutual recognition of one another’s needs, and the assumption that rewards and costs will be equitable over time without close monitoring; “exchange relationships,” on the other hand, depend on giving benefits, with the expectation that one will receive comparable benefits in return (Clark & Mills, 1979). Communal relationships can be symmetrical or asymmetrical in terms of the responsibility that individuals take for one another. Friendships and romantic relationships are mostly symmetrical, whereas parent–child relationships and some sibling relationships mostly are not.
Social exchange theories seem rigid and materialistic to many critics, but the interdependencies that come with these exchanges occur in many everyday contexts. As an investigator, one may prefer to regard relationships as resting on security, empathy, or the need for intimacy (see earlier discussion). But there can be little doubt that interpersonal exchanges based on social equity are evident in all cultures and facilitate coordinated social behavior (Laursen & Graziano, 2002). Given that nearly every theory relating to the formation and functioning of children’s friendships stresses reciprocity, it is surprising that exchange theory has not been exploited more extensively in relevant research. Increasingly, however, this theory drives research on romantic relationships in adolescence.

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