Medicine & USMLE

(Social) Exchange Theory

Social Structure
  1. Conflict Theory
  2. (Social) Constructionism
  3. (Social) Exchange Theory
  4. Structural Functionalism
  5. Symbolic Interactionism


Social Exchange Theory, also referred to as Exchange theory or Rational Choice theory, is a sociological theory that focuses on interpersonal interactions. According to Exchange theory, a person is motivated by self-interest in their interpersonal interactions. When a person engages in a social interaction, they operate on a selfish cost-benefit analysis, seeking to maximize personal gain while minimizing personal loss. According to this theory, even seemingly altruistic behavior comes from a selfish cost-benefit analysis.

Key Points

  • (Social) Exchange Theory
    • Also known as Rational Choice Theory
    • Society constructed through interactions, in which people act according to selfish cost-benefit
      • People attempt to maximize gain and minimize cost in all situations