Conflict and fairness in social exchange

Linda D. Molm, Jessica L. Collett, David R. Schaefer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

72 Scopus citations


Inherent to all social exchange relations are elements of both cooperation and competition. We develop and test a theoretical model which proposes that the relative salience of the competitive, conflictual elements of exchange mediate and explain the negative effects of negotiated exchange, as compared with reciprocal exchange, on actors' evaluations of fairness. By creating inequality within rather than across transactions, and by making relations between one actor's gain and another's cost more transparent, negotiated exchanges alter the relational context of exchange to one of competition and conflict and heighten actors' sense of unfairness. Results of experimental tests show that (1) the salience of conflict increases and perceived fairness decreases as we make reciprocal exchanges more like negotiated exchanges on dimensions of conflict, (2) the salience of conflict mediates and explains the relation between the form of exchange and perceived fairness, (3) conflict affects fairness directly rather than through self-serving attributions, and (4) regardless of the relative conflict in reciprocal exchange, actors reciprocally exchange with unfair partners far more often than they negotiate agreements with them.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2331-2352
Number of pages22
JournalSocial Forces
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jun 2006
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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