Does Social Value Orientation Theory Apply to Social Relations?

Patricia Danielle Lewis, David Willer

Sociological Science, March 29, 2017
DOI 10.15195/v4.a11



This research asks whether Social Value Orientations (SVOs) apply to the social relations of exchange networks. SVO literature identifies three types of orientation to rational action, determined by how actors value outcomes to self and other. Only the individualist is the self-interested, rational actor previously seen in exchange networks. The prosocial actor seeks to maximize joint outcomes and equality whereas the competitor seeks to maximize differences between self and other. The competitor and individualist are frequently collapsed into a proself type. Whereas SVO research has focused on games and social dilemmas, this research places prosocials and proselfs in equal, weak, and strong power exchange structures. We show that, if SVO applies, the behaviors of proself and prosocial will be very different. Experimental results demonstrate, however, that prosocials’ actions in exchanges are indistinguishable from activities of proselfs.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Patricia Danielle Lewis: Department of Sociology, University of South Carolina

David Willer: Department of Sociology, University of South Carolina

Acknowledgements: This research was funded by an NSF grant to David Willer.

  • Citation: Lewis, Patricia Danielle, and David Willer. 2017. “Does Social Value Orientation Theory Apply to Social Relations?” Sociological Science 3: 249-262.
  • Received: December 19, 2016
  • Accepted: January 11, 2017
  • Editors: Jesper B. Sørensen, Sarah Soule
  • DOI: 10.15195/v4.a11

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