Chapter Nine: Social Penetration Theory
(Irwin Altman and Dalmas Taylor)
COM 252 Interpersonal Communication
Professor Arrington
Intimacy
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Emotional
Physical
Intellectual
Shared activities
Distance
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Avoiding
Becoming reserved
Shortening interaction
Restricting topics
Restraint
Deception
Dialectical Tension
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Closeness  privacy
Interdependence  autonomy
Intimacy is NOT essential for a positive
relationship. Obsession with intimacy can
lead to a less satisfying relationship.
The desire for intimacy in a relationship can
wax and wane.
Hold me tight – put me down – leave me
alone
Personalities as Onions?
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Personality structure as a multilayered
onion
– Outer layer
– Inner core
Social Penetration Theory (SPT)
Key Points
SPT is a theory about the development of “relational
closeness.”
Relational closeness can progress from superficial to
intimate.
Closeness develops through self-disclosure.
Closeness varies according to the following factors:
Rewards/benefits
Costs/vulnerability
Satisfaction
Stability and security
Self-Disclosure
Self-disclosure is sharing with someone information
which helps him or her understand you. Selfdisclosure is most revealing when the sharing is in
the present and least revealing when the sharing is
about the past. --
D. Johnson, Reaching Out:Interpersonal
Effectiveness and Self-Actualization (Boston: Allyn
and Bacon) 1997 ,p.33.
Self-disclosure
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Peripheral items exchanged sooner, more
frequently than private information
Self-disclosure as reciprocal, especially early
in relationship development
Penetration is rapid at the beginning of a
relationship but slows down as we move from
outer to inner layers
Depenetration – gradual process of layer-bylayer withdrawal
Self-Disclosure Definitions
** S. Jourard (in The Transparent Self) defines self-disclosure
as making ourselves "transparent" to others through our
communication--i.e., when we tell others things about
ourselves which help them to see our uniqueness as a human
being.
** Culpert distinguishes between self-description vs. selfdisclosure. Self-description involves communication that levels
"public layers" whereas self-disclosure involves
communication that reveals more private, sensitive, and
confidential information.
** Pearce & Sharp make an interesting distinction among three
related terms: Self-disclosure, confession, and revelation.
•Self-disclosure -- voluntarily communication of information
about one's self to another.
•Confession -- forced or coerced communication of
information about one's self to another.
•Revelation -- unintentional or inadvertent communication
of information about one's self to another.
Findings of Self Disclosure Research
Disclosure increases with increased relational
intimacy.
Disclosure increases with the need to reduce
uncertainty in a relationship.
Disclosure tends to be reciprocal.
Disclosure tends to be incremental.
Disclosure tends to be symmetrical.
Liking is related to positive disclosure, but not to
negative ones.
Positive disclosure does not necessarily increase
with the intimacy of the relationship; but negative
disclosure is directly related to the intimacy of the
relationship.
Relational satisfaction and disclosure have a
curvilinear relationship -- satisfaction is highest with
moderate levels of disclosure.
Theory into Practice: Guidelines for Self-Disclosure
Is the time, place, and information appropriate and/or relevant?
Is the audience appropriate for your self-disclosure?
Might the information you are about to disclose reflect badly on others
known to the group?
Will your self-disclosure demonstrate respect for another individual's or
group's opinion?
Is the situation one in which you trust the other person(s) to listen and
show courtesy toward you?
Do you have a relationship with the other person(s) which allows for
mutual disclosure? How close are you to the other person?
How much personal detail do you need to go into? Might you embarrass
yourself or others?
Have you developed adequate rapport with the other person? Do you feel
pressured to self-disclose? Is this something you really want to do?
Theory into Practice: Guidelines for Self-Disclosure
 Can you trust the other person(s) to maintain confidentiality if
necessary?
 Do you feel comfortable self-disclosing in the situation you are in?
 What impact will your self-disclosure have on the other person?
 Do you have a relationship with the other person(s) which allows for
mutual disclosure? How close are you to the other person?
 How much personal detail do you need to go into? Might you
embarrass yourself or others?
 Have you developed adequate rapport with the other person? Do
you feel pressured to self-disclose? Is this something you really
want to do?
 Can you trust the other person(s) to maintain confidentiality if
necessary?
 Do you feel comfortable self-disclosing in the situation you are in?
 What impact will your self-disclosure have on the other person?
Self-Disclosure Tests
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For individuals:
http://psychologytoday.psychtests.com/tests/s
elf_disclosure_general_access.html
For couples:
http://psychologytoday.psychtests.com/cgibin/tests/transfer_ap.cgi?partner=pt&part=1&t
est=self_disclosure_couples_r&AMT=9.95&it
em=SelfDisclosure%20Test%20for%20Couples%20%20R
A Contextual Self-Disclosure Test
(from http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/comm321/gwalker/relationships.htm)
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Step 1: Identify a relationship
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Stranger
Co-worker
Employer/supervisor
Acquaintance
Friend
Intimate partner
Family member
Peer in this class
Step 2: Rate the items that follow
using the following scale:
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1 – would definitely self-disclose
2 – would probably self-disclose
3 – uncertain if I would self-disclose
4 – would probably not self-disclose
5 – would definitely not self-disclose
Step 3: The Items
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My religious beliefs
My attitudes toward
other religions,
nationalities, ethnic
groups
My economic status
My parents’ attitudes
about other religions,
nationalities, ethnic
groups
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My feelings about my
parents
My past intimate
relationships
My ideal mate
My sexual fantasies
My doubts about myself
My hopes and fears
Step 3: Continued
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My drinking and/or
drug-taking behavior
My political beliefs
My job satisfaction
or dissatisfaction
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My relationship
satisfaction or
dissatisfaction
My feelings about
the people in the
relevant group (e.g.
peers in this class,
co-workers, family
members)
Your SD score:
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The LOWER your score, the HIGHER
your SD score is.
Score a 75 – you HARDLY EVER selfdisclose
Score a 15 – you SELF-DISCLOSE to
extremes
Maybe we should work on a nice happy
medium?
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