Affection Exchange Theory

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Affection Exchange Theory (AET) was introduced in 2001 by Kory Floyd, who is currently a professor of communication at the University of Arizona. The theory was first presented in two of Floyd’s research projects. The first was in a paper presented to the Western States Communication Association in Coeur d’Alene, ID in February 2001. The paper was titled "Elements of an affection exchange theory: Socioevolutionary paradigm for understanding affectionate communication". The second was in an article titled “Human Affection Exchange I: Reproductive probability as a predictor of men’s affection with their sons,” published in The Journal of Men’s Studies in Fall 2001. When this theory was constructed, Floyd was working as a professor at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona in the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication. Many studies had been done up to this point (including some of Floyd’s own research pieces) regarding affection and its involvement in interpersonal relationships, particularly between romantic partners and between parents and their children. In 2001, Floyd introduced AET, which was the first theory to address some of the short and long-term effects of the exchange of affection.

Theoretical components[edit]

Floyd explains, “affection exchange theory treats affectionate communication as an adaptive behavior that contributes to humans’ long-term viability and procreative success” (Floyd, 2001, p. 40). He also described AET this way: “AET posits that affection exchange contributes to survival because it promotes pair bonding and the increased access to resources pair bonds provide” (Floyd, 2001, pp. 40–41). Another facet of AET was that the exchange of affection served as an indicator to another individual that he or she was a good prospect for parenthood (Floyd, 2001). Lastly, Floyd indicated that when parents show affection to their children, their children are more likely to be successful in reproducing; thus, the parents’ genes will be passed down further (Floyd, 2001). To Floyd, this was seen as a benefit of affection exchange.

Motivation to develop AET[edit]

Floyd had done much work in the area of affection involved in communication processes before introducing this theory. One of the areas that was so unique in the study of affection was the idea of the expectations involved in affection exchange. Canary et al. (2008) point out that the expectations involved in affection exchange as well as a curiosity about the evolutionary and biological bases for affection expectations are what led Floyd to develop this theory (p. 72). Canary et al. (2008) also note, “In AET, affection is thought of as an adaptive behavior that is helpful to long-term human survival by promoting bonding and increased access to resources. If this theory is correct, affection ought to increase as its ability to enhance survival increases” (p. 72).

Implications of the theory[edit]

A great deal of this theory’s premise can be linked back to Darwin’s principles that state that reproductivity and survival are what serve as humans’ most fundamental motivations. With these ideas in mind, it follows that humans would do everything they could to make sure that their genes carry on, even if that means (intentionally or unintentionally) showing more affection to a child that the parent knew was more likely to reproduce. Linked to this idea, Floyd’s studies have shown that fathers display less affection toward their sons if the sons identify as homosexual or bisexual (Canary et al., 2008, p. 74). In general, AET presents the idea that parents are more likely to show affection to their children who are most likely to pass on the family genes. AET has been used a great deal in studies dealing with relationships between fathers and sons, particularly as it relates to men’s sexuality and how that impacts the amount of affection a father shows to his son, the communicative behaviors involved in AET, and how the amount of affection that a father shows to his son correlates with the amount of affection that the son displays toward his children and the generations that follow.


  • Floyd, K. (2001, February). Elements of an affection exchange theory: Socioevolutionary paradigm for understanding affectionate communication. Paper presented to Western States Communication Association, Coeur d’Alene, ID.
  • Floyd, K. (2001). Human affection exchange I: Reproductive probability of men’s affection with their sons. Journal of Men’s Studies, 10, 39-50.
  • Canary, D, Cody, M., & Manusov, V. (2008). Interpersonal communication: A goals-based approach. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s.