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Elisa Gott

Reel Paper
Comm 2050-400
Feb. 25, 2018
Moana and Social Exchange Theory
This paper will give a background of the movie Moana, explain Social Exchange Theory,
analyze the movie using the theory, give recommendations on how to improve the
communication between participants, and finalize with what I learned about the theory.
Movie Background
The movie Moana is about a young girl that is trying to save her island from the curse created
by Maui, a demigod, when he stole the heart of Te Fiti. In-order-to reestablish the harmony of
her island, she needs to convince Maui, to go with her and return the heart to Te Fiti. Because of
past experiences with the heart, Maui refuses to go with her and tries to get rid of her. In this
analysis, we will focus on what Moana does to be able to receive the help that she needs so much
(Shurer, Clements, & Musker, 2016).
Theory Summary and Author Background
According to Social Exchange Theory, people estimate the value of their relationships by
measuring the costs and the rewards the relationships provide (West & Turner, 2010, p. 186).
As stated by West and Turner (2010) “there are several theories of social exchange” (p. 187)
each “developed by researchers in different disciplines (for example, psychology, social
psychology, and sociology)” (West & Turner, 2010, p. 187). One theory that influences and
shapes the Social Exchange Theory is the work done by John Thibaut and Harold Kelley (1959)
explained in their book The Social Psychology of Groups. About their work, Mary Louise
Somers expresses “this last volume offers a conceptual structure within which to view, to
analyze, and to inter-relate findings which deal with small-group phenomena that have been
studied in diverse research efforts over a period of years” (Somers, 1960, p. 455).
Furthermore, Social Exchange Theory predicts that “the worth of a relationship influences its
outcome, or whether people will continue with a relationship or terminate it” (West & Turner,
2010, p. 187). In addition, according to Thibaut and Kelley’s theory, the way people evaluate
the worth of a relationship depends on two kinds of comparison: comparison level and
comparison level for alternatives (Thibaut & Kelley, 1959, p. 21). Comparison level (CL) can
be described as “a standard for what a person thinks he or she should get in a relationship”, and
comparison level for alternatives (CLalt) is known as “how people evaluate a relationship
based on what their alternatives to the relationship are” (West & Turner, 2010, p. 191).
Moreover, the decision of an individual to initiate or not to initiate a new relationship will rest on
both, the CL and the CLalt (DeLamater, Collet, & Myers, 2014, p. 409).
Also, according to Thibaut and Kelley, people “engage in behavioral sequences, or a series
of actions designed to achieve their goal” (as cited in West & Turner, 2010, p. 193). From this
interdependency, the notion of power arises, which then measures the degree of dependency a
person has on the other parties’ outcome (West & Turner, 2010, p. 193). This power can be
categorized as fate control and behavior control. Fate control is the ability one person has to
affect the outcome of another individual. Behavior control is the power one person has to
change the behavior of another person (West & Turner, 2010, p. 193).

Analysis of Movie using Theory (this should be your longest section)

The Social Exchange Theory predicts that, in relationships, people will seek rewards and
avoid punishment (West & Turner, 2010, p. 188). During the first contact Moana has with
Maui, she tried to force him to go with her to return the heart to Te Fiti. This was not a very
good move on her part considering she is smaller than him and could not physically make Maui
do something without his consent. This situation ends with Moana getting locked in a cave and
Maui stealing her boat. Because Maui could not see any reward that could come from this new
relationship, he tried to get rid of Moana in several occasions. On the other hand, Moana needs
Maui in-order-to return the heart of Te Fiti, which makes her keep trying to get close to him
despite his behavior. The cost of being rejected and badly treated by the demigod is outweighed
by the reward she could have if she makes this partnership work.
Furthermore, Maui sees the relationship with Moana as a threat because of previous
experiences he has had with the heart of Te Fiti. We can see that when he says, “That is not a
heart. It is a curse. The second I took it, I got blasted out of the sky and I lost my hook” (Shurer,
Clements, & Musker, 2016). We can see why Maui has concluded that the only thing coming
from an interaction with the heart will be punishment, and because of that he wants to fly away.
Maui’s reaction is not a surprise and is predicted by the second assumption of the theory that
explains that “humans are rational beings” and that “within the limits of the information that is
available to them, people will calculate the cost and rewards of a given situation and guide their
behaviors accordingly” (West & Turner, 2010, p. 188). For Maui, the cost of the relationship is
too high, and he does not see any reward that can counter-balance that, for which he concludes
he is better off without Moana.
Despite the fact that Maui cannot see anything good coming from this relationship, he
recognizes that he has not too many alternatives. The theory suggests that when the outcome of
the situation is lower from its comparison level (CL), or what we think we should get from a
relationship, but it is higher than its comparison level for alternatives (CLalt), or what the
alternatives are to this relationship, the relationship is “Unsatisfying and Stable” (West & Turner,
2010, p. 192). In this case, Maui wishes he could keep the boat and get rid of Moana (CL), but
the reality of the events is that he is stuck in the boat with Moana (outcome), and none of them is
going anywhere (CLalt).
Moreover, Moana has the ocean as her ally and because of that, she has some power in the
relationship. The ocean has made it possible for her to get close to Maui when he has tried to get
rid of her, and it has kept Maui from running away from her. Nevertheless, Maui shows her that
he also has some power in the matter, he reminds her that she cannot make him do something if
he doesn’t want to. At this point, Moana realizes that in exchange for the help she wants, she
will have to come up with a different approach. Moana engages in what Social Exchange
Theory calls behavioral sequences, “a series of actions designed to achieve a goal” (West &
Turner, 2010, p. 193). She helps Maui see that there is reward in helping her. We can see this
interaction in the following dialogue,
Maui- “I’m not going on a suicide mission with some mortal. You can’t restore the heart
without me and me says no. I’m getting my hook. End of discussion.”
Moana- “You’d be a hero. That’s what you’re all about, right?”
Maui- “Little girl, I am a hero.”
Moana- “Maybe you were. But now…now you’re just the guy who stole the heart of Te
Fiti. The guy who cursed the world. You’re no one’s hero.”
Maui- “No one?”
Moana- “But, put this back, save the world, you’d be everyone’s hero. [Moana
whispering] Maui! Maui! Maui! You’re so amazing!”
Maui- “We’d never make it without my hook. Not past Te Ka.”
Moana- “Then we get your hook. We get your hook, take out Te Ka, restore the heart.
Unless you don’t want to be Maui, demigod of the wind and sea. Hero to…all?”
Maui- “First, we get my hook.”
Moana- “Then save the world. Deal?”
Maui- “Deal.” (Shurer, Clements, & Musker, 2016).
Moana realizes that Maui values the power and recognition that comes from being a demigod,
and she uses this to show him the rewards he can obtain from this new relationship. The
interdependency that exists between them changes Maui’s disposition and Moana’s behavior. As
Thibaut and Kelley explained, “people develop patterns of exchange to cope with power
differentials and to deal with the costs associated with exercising power” (as cited in West &
Turner, 2010, p. 193). Moana and Maui had developed what the theory calls direct exchange,
“an exchange where two people reciprocate costs and rewards” (West & Turner, 2010, p. 196);
both are willing to give to the relationship knowing that both can get something as well.

Theory Recommendation
The first interaction between Moana and Maui could have been different if Moana would not
have tried to force Maui to do something. Instead, I would have suggested to Moana to look for
some kind of reward to offer to Maui. Knowing that everyone, according to the theory, is
measuring his or her relationship according to ‘what is in it for me?’ can help us understand the
behavior of the other person. If we don’t have anything to offer in a relationship, or if we don’t
see any reward coming from the interaction (tangible or intangible), the possibilities of the
relationship developing are very low.
This analysis helps us understand the application of the Social Exchange Theory in the
interaction between characters in the movie Moana. It shows us how humans evaluate their
relationships in terms of costs and rewards, and that by nature humans try to maximize their
rewards while minimizing their costs. Also, it explains that through our actions, we can change
the outcome of a relationship; by helping the other person feel rewarded, the relationship has a
bigger chance to develop.
Something that got my attention is the idea that in a relationship both partners are
interdependent, and the theory suggests that both parts need to put something to make the
relationship work. This interdependence can create the notion of power, and the assumption that
one person has more power than the other. But as explained by West and Turner “there is
probably an optimal amount a giver can give before status and power might begin to decline”
(West & Turner, 2010, p. 193). In sum, we should remember that each relationship will demand
some kind of sacrifice from us if we want the relationship to succeed.

DeLamater, J. D., Collett, J. L., & Myers, D. J. (2014). Social Psychology. New York: Westview
Shurer, O. (Producer), & Clements, R., Musker, J. (Directors). (2016). Moana. [Motion picture].
United States: Walt Disney.
Somers, M. L. (1960). The Social Psychology of Groups John W. Thibaut Harold H.
Kelley. Social Service Review, (4), 455.
Thibaut, J., & Kelly, H. (1959). The social psychology of groups. New York: Wiley.
West, R., & Turner, L. H. (2010). Introducing communication theory: Analysis and application.
(4th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.