Social exchange theory

Social exchange theory

This theory is rooted in sociology, economics and psychology and it draws sociological and social psychological perspective in communication by explaining the social stability and change as a process that negotiate parties' exchange. According to (Griffin 2000), the theory argues that all human relationships are subject to cost benefit analysis and other alternatives' comparison, the theory is linked with the rational choice theory and structuralism and features most of the theories' assumptions. It argues that people engage in social exchange for various reasons which include anticipated reciprocity, direct reward, to develop reputation and influence other people. Others engage in social exchange out of altruism as well as a perception of efficacy.

According to (Miller 2005), the theory has received several objections through various seminal works that has been developed over time, some of the major objections include; the theory's reduction of human interaction and communication to a rational process arising from economic theory. Another criticism received by the theory is that, having been developed in 1970's when ideas that promoted freedom and openness were a major preference, the theory is seemed to favor openness which at times is not the relationship's option. Also the assumption that a relationship's ultimate goal is intimacy is wrong because there are various kinds of relationship, some of which intimacy is not necessary. The theory has also placed relationships as a linear structure but some relationships do not linearly follow such steps in developing intimacy. In fact the theory is deeply set in individual human mindset which limits it's its application and description of collective cultures.


According to (Miller 2005), social exchange theory proves material in various situations where the idea resource exchange is applicable. Social behavior involves exchange of both material and immaterial goods like approval symbols and prestige and those who give others much try to receive more while them that receive more are pressurized to give much such that the influence process works in an equilibrium, trying to balance the exchanges. When I was in college I got myself communicating with people from different levels, some of the motivations were to influence them especially in different capacities of leadership. I have also gotten myself engaged in social activities like corporate social responsibilities just to be rewarded where such activities are rewarding the participants. I have severally assisted street boys where I get myself assisting them with things like food at times out of selflessness. Whatever one person receives in any relationship that is termed as a reward may be a cost the giver just as it may cost him to give and the two parties change their behavior as they maximize their profit.
Uncertainty reduction theory

Uncertainty reduction theory revolves around interpersonal communication, it first got introduced in 1975 as a collaborative effort to explain and predict development or lack of development of relations between strangers, by Richard J. Calabrese and Charles R. Berger. The theory narrows down to the communication steps and checkpoint that strangers go through as they try to reduce each other's uncertainty and form likes and dislikes. According to (Griffin 2000), the interaction is viewed to go through numerous stages.

Relational Development stages

There are three stages discussed under the initial interaction between strangers; entry sage, personal stage and exit stage. In each category displays interaction behaviors that indicate likes and dislikes.

Entry stage

This stage is characterized by behavioral norms and the exchange contents are mainly and transactional and demographic. Some of the common strangers questions at this stage include general questions like ‘where are you from' and the involvement level is enhanced as they progress to the second stage. This is supported by some of the axioms formed which argue that as strangers meet their level of uncertainty is high which prompt them to engage each other through several questions, the uncertainty reduces as the parties interact (Miller 2005).

Second stage

This stage is also referred to as personal phase, where strangers start exploring their attitudes and beliefs after several interactions under the entry stage such that the parties are able to probe each other in a way to indicate their morals, values and personal issues. According to (Griffin 2000), these disclosures increase the parties' emotional involvement.

Final stage

This is also referred to as the exit stage where the parties make decision regarding the continuity or non-continuity of their relationship. It's in this stage that future plans may be made and in case there lacks mutual liking they may opt to end the relationship. According to (Griffin 2000), the understanding of the relational cycle development is vital in studying uncertainty reduction between strangers. In studying these phenomena, the theorist (Calabrese & Berger) has introduced theorems and axioms in regard to interaction behavior. One of the axioms founded by the theorist argues that increased uncertainty reduces liking while decreased uncertainty increases the liking. One of the theorems formulated by Calabrese and Berger argues that strangers liking as well as the considerable amount of communication are usually positively related, another theorem argues that liking and similarity are positively related (Griffin 2000).

In supporting his theory Berger later proposed information seeking behaviors, one of these is passive, where a party just watches the other party in an interaction as it draws clues to stimulate his response or reaction. Another information seeking behavior is active, where an a party poses question about the other party in communication, and interactive where direct questions are posed to the interactant. Berger argued that the interactant's disclosures determine whether he will be judged as attractive or less attractive and whether such judgments will reduce existing uncertainties or bring the relationship to an end, (Miller 2005).


Several objections have been raised against the uncertainty reduction theory of communication. Some critiques argue that the theory embarks on uncertainty reduction as the main drive for communication where this is not necessarily the driving force for relations has sparked much argument in communication field. Various critics have deliberately argued that dipping uncertainty in most cases has nothing to do with any apparent driving force of relation or interaction. One of the critiques namely Michael Sunnafrank's in his outcome value theory of 1986 argued that, the actual dive for interaction is the parties desire to have positive relational experience. Other critiques argue that the formulation of the theory is so much attached to the demographic; the middle-class of the United States where Berger and Calabrese developed the theory while the scope of axioms and theorems formed in the theory is a major issue in that if any of the axioms are disapproved it wipes out the axiological base. The theory has further received development from James Honeycutt who argued that communication do not always reduce uncertainty but at times, it can increase uncertainty where the information drawn conflicts with the past knowledge. According to (Miller 2005), uncertainty increasing events may result in dissolution of relations and reduce parties' closeness

Theory Application

The theory has been widely used in the explanation of the initial communication events and in studying intercultural interactions, organization relations and media functions, though it should further be tested in new paradigms to add to its fortitude.

The theory applies to romantic relationships, those people who communicate often with their romantic partners perceive great similarity with their partner and such people also receive greater support from them and experience less uncertainty. According to (Griffin 2000), this supports the axiom that increased verbal communication and as well as similarity reduces uncertainty thereby extending the scope of the theory to romantic relationships. I have this applicable in my own relationship whereby communicating often with my life partner and his family members, has been a source of great support for me from him and his family. One of my parents, dad, happens to travel a lot in his job and this would have initially deteriorated their relationship with my mum in scenarios where he has travelled outside country and does not communicate till he resumes, upon realizing the effects my dad started communicating often and this reduced my mum's reaction since it would reduce her uncertainty on matters of security and marriage relationship. Uncertainty reduction is also linked to Relational Maintenance, I realize am not able to maintain and retain some relationships where I have a high level of uncertainty and this has at times determined who of my friends' choice in any particular issue. A good example is the effects of distance relationships and marriage, most of these relationships are deteriorated by increasing uncertainty levels between the partners where the parties involved in a relationship do not communicate. Research has shown that uncertainty levels in communication vary across cultures.

Relational Dialectics Theory

Dialectical thinking has had a great contribution to the conceptual frameworks of relational life. Relational dialectics as a concept of communication was first propose by W.K Rawlins and Baxter in 1988. The theory takes a value based and emotional side philosophical dialect, and its ideology is deeply rooted in dynamism of emotional balance which is always in motion and every communication value has it extreme opposite. The theorist argued that communication patterns in relationships depend on the prevalent dialectical tensions (opposing values). These arise from conflict in emotional needs of the relationship parties who face pulls and tugs that leads to constant flux in a relationship. The theory discusses three core opposing values. One of these core values is privacy vs. transparency where the theorist argues that where there is information sharing parties grow closer. The need for privacy in communication however conflicts with the need for se-disclosure thereby creating tension in a relationship in regard to how much each party should disclose. Another core tension discussed in the theory is novelty vs. predictability where parties struggle to avoid monotony in a relationship while structure and stability is greatly needed. A relationship can not stay dynamic where nothing happens beyond the ordinary. Autonomy vs. connectedness is also a core tension in communication where an individual's attachment to other members intrudes an individual's need for independence, (Griffin 2000).

The relational dialects theory argues that communication is not a straight path to openness, closeness and certainty in relationship as most people desire. This is because conflicts at times give rise to autonomy, privacy and novelty. According to (Miller 2005), Baxter applied a deep structural analysis in his communication theory where the dynamic theories operate. Relational dialect theory has given a broad relationships view and its most positive appeal is that it explains the pull and push experienced by people in relationships.

Theory Application

This theory is applicable in situations where we need to explain the dramatic communication behavioral changes among people. Each extreme behavior offsets tendency to move to a different dialect, and it's therefore essential to the understanding of interpersonal relationships. A good example is a romantic relationship of two college students who spend all their time together while one of them sometimes desire to have some personal space but the other party can not understand. Another example from a life experience is in my own romantic relationship where engaging activities have become redundant and one of us wants a little more excitement and at such moments we are torn between novelty and predictability in our communication (Miller 2005).

Relationships are enjoyed when they are dynamic and we have learned to add new things that spice the relationship and I believe this will continue to improve our relations by balancing our certainties and uncertainties. I have been open in my relationship, about my past, my desires and my feelings and at time I find my partner less open to a point where am confused and less comfortable, we have however learnt to maintain a reasonable level of transparency and allow for privacy, this has really helped us understand disclosure and secretiveness in communication. According to (Griffin 2000), these are some of the practical choices that we have had to make in amidst of opposing values and needs, these choices and actions re-create and change the nature of our relationship as well as the dialectal tensions.


Relational dialects theory do not offer any axioms or theorems and is not a traditional theory, it's however is based on conceptual assumptions, it does not therefore give people strategies to deal with key dialectic tensions in relationships. Another critique to this theory relates to the fact is that dialects operate from an open-ended viewpoint in that the theorist have concluded that its valuable to define life from emerging issues and ignore the cultural need for closure(Miller 2005). Many researchers have however agreed with the dialect approach as a really exiting way to understand communication in a relational life.


Miller, K. (2005). Communication Theories. Boston, MA: McGraw Hill Publishers.

Griffin, E. (2000). A first look at communication theory. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill Publishers.

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