Harmony motives as orientations in social exchange regulation


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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  • Jie WANG

Related Research Unit(s)


Awarding Institution
  • Kwok LEUNG (Supervisor)
Award date15 Feb 2013


This thesis seeks to broaden the research on self-focused dispositional constructs that are dominant in Western literature by introducing two harmony motives as individual orientations that are interpersonal in nature. To explore the consequences of this pair of interpersonally oriented individual difference constructs, harmony motives are integrated with social exchange theory, a major theoretical framework of interaction between different social actors from the West (Blau, 1964). Social exchange theory, one of the most influential theoretical perspectives in the field of management and organizational behavior, accounts for diverse organizational phenomena. A major line of research on social exchange theory is concerned with the role of individual differences in exchange processes. This research direction is provided by the notion of exchange ideology in the work context proposed by Eisenberger, Huntington, Hutchison, and Sowa (1986). However, dispositional research on exchange processes has thus far focused exclusively on how individual differences affect reactions to exchange behaviors of other social actors, and have not paid attention to individual differences in the active regulation of exchange relationships. The actions of individuals during exchange processes depend not only on the actual treatments they receive from others, but also on the expected relationships they establish and maintain with their exchange partners. In other words, previous research has largely ignored how individuals actively regulate exchange processes based on individual differences when they are confronted with an exchange situation. To fulfill this research gap, two types of harmony motives are proposed to capture individual differences in the active regulation of exchange relationships: harmony enhancement and disintegration avoidance. Harmony enhancement represents an affinity for approaching positive exchange relationships because of its focus on positive outcomes associated with harmonious relationships. In contrast, disintegration avoidance represents a tendency to avoid negative exchange relationships because of the negative outcomes associated with poor relationships. Drawn from a model of approach and avoidance social motives and goals for social regulation in close relationships (Gable, 2006), I propose that, in exchange processes, individuals with harmony enhancement regulate their actions to attain positive exchange relationships, whereas individuals with disintegration avoidance regulate their actions to avoid negative exchange relationships. Two independent studies are employed to examine how harmony motives as exchange regulation tendencies influence exchange processes. Study 1 seeks to establish a causal relationship between harmony motives and people's exchange regulatory strategies. I propose that harmony motives predispose individuals to focus on positive or negative reciprocity from their exchange partners. These harmony motives should lead to different exchange regulatory strategies when initiating an exchange relationship. The results from an experimental study involving 103 undergraduate students support the hypotheses. Using priming procedures, the participants were either primed as high in harmony enhancement or high in disintegration avoidance. They were randomly assigned to play a trust game or a modified ultimatum game, in which the participants are allocated 30 HKD among themselves and an anonymous partner. In the trust game, the money the participant allocated to his or her partner would be tripled, after which the partner would decide how much money they wished to allocate back to the participant. In the modified ultimatum game, if the partner is not satisfied with the allocation decision of the participant, he or she could punish the participant. In other words, participants have chances to be positively or negatively reciprocated to by their partners in the trust game and the modified ultimatum game, respectively. The results show that harmony enhancement prompted the participants to allocate more money to their partners in the trust game, whereas disintegration avoidance prompted the participants to allocate more money to their partners in the modified ultimatum game. These results confirm that harmony enhancement led the participants to approach positive exchange relationships, whereas disintegration avoidance led the participants to avoid negative exchange relationships. Study 1 uses undergraduate students as samples, which could result in questionable external validity. Therefore, working adults (both employees and their direct supervisors) from various organizations were recruited to participate in the survey in Study 2. Study 2 explores how harmony motives as exchange regulation tendencies are related to different exchange relationships with coworkers and how they influence people's interpersonal behaviors at work. Two types of exchange relationships are examined in this study: social and economic. Social exchange entails long-term relationships and involves the exchange of socio-emotional resources with unspecified obligations, whereas economic exchange entails shortterm relationships and involves the exchange of concrete or economic resources with well-defined obligations (Blau, 1964). Adapting the arguments of the model of approach and avoidance social motives and goals (Gable, 2006), I propose that people who endorse harmony enhancement tend to have social exchange relationships with coworkers; thus, they engage in more helping behavior and less interpersonal deviance. However, disintegration avoidance is likely to lead to economic exchange relationships with coworkers, which have no relationship with helping behavior and have a positive relationship with interpersonal deviance. A questionnaire survey was conducted involving 221 employees and their immediate supervisors. Statistical results reveal harmony enhancement to be positively related to social exchange relationships with coworkers, and disintegration avoidance to be positively related to economic exchange relationships with coworkers. The results support the indirect effects of harmony enhancement on helping behavior and interpersonal deviance through social exchange relationships with coworkers. Furthermore, the results also support the indirect effects of disintegration avoidance on interpersonal deviance through economic exchange relationships with coworkers. In general, the findings of these two studies support a proactive perspective on individual differences in social exchange theory by establishing the relationships between harmony motives and exchange regulatory strategies toward positive exchange relationships and away from negative exchange relationships. Future studies may investigate the environmental moderators of the relationships between harmony motives and exchange regulation, as well as the effects of harmony motives on continuing and interacting exchange processes between two or more exchange parties.

    Research areas

  • Social exchange, Harmony, Exchange theory (Sociology)