Social Penetration Theory
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  • 1. SOCIAL PENETRATION THEORY Of Irwin Altman and Dalmas Taylor
  • 2. MAIN IDEAS
    • Closeness develops if people proceed in gradual and orderly fashion from superficial to more intimate levels of exchange
    • Personality is like a multi-layered onion with public self on the outer layer and private self at the core
  • 3. MAIN IDEAS (ctd)
    • Closeness (penetration) is achieved through self-disclosure
    • Self-disclosure risks vulnerability
    • Layers of the onion are tougher towards the center
    • Depth of penetration is degree of intimacy
  • 4. SELF DISCLOSURE
    • Peripheral items are disclosed earlier and more regularly
    • Self-disclosure is reciprocal, esp. at first
    • Penetration is rapid at first but slows down because of social norms and stalling
    • De-penetration is also gradual
    • Intimacy requires depth AND breadth of disclosure
  • 5. REGULATING CLOSENESS
    • Regulation by means of rewards and punishments
    • People try to forecast outcomes of social exchange
    • If perceived mutual benefits outweigh costs of vulnerability, self-disclosure will proceed
    • People seek to maximize benefits and minimize costs. Note: nature of benefits may change over time; at first, physical appearance, similar backgrounds, extent of agreement rate high.
    • The higher we value an outcome, the more attractive the behavior that will make it happen
  • 6. COMPARISON LEVELS
    • The comparison level (CL) is the threshold above which an outcome seems attractive; is related to relational history
    • Comparison level (CLalt – comparison level of alternatives ) is affected by other possible relationships available
    • Comparisons are made between present realities and desired outcomes
  • 7. CRITIQUE
    • Theory not fully supported by data
    • Highest reciprocity may occur at middle levels; may be cycles of disclosure and reserve
    • Needs take account of gender (males less open)
    • Disclosure can increase as relationship deteriorates
    • Single comparison (CL) index too simplistic
    • In close relationships, self-centeredness lessens
    • Onion metaphor: sexual; disclosure is active , usually symmetrical ; self is not simply revealed but is constructed
  • 8. CRITIQUE (ctd)
    • “Penetration” metaphor unhelpful (power and sexual overtones)
    • Suggests that the self is undivided, all-knowable rather than formed through interaction: disclosure changes self
    • Onion metaphor suggests sameness not diversity