Social penetration theory was first proposed by Altman and Taylor in 1973. There after it was further developed by Altman. This theory is an over-all method of interpersonal attraction that looks at the introduction of an interpersonal relationship from acquaintanceship to close friendship as a gradual and systematic process. It also talks about how friendship moves from peripheral and superficial degrees of exchange to intimate friends (Green 219). The growth of relationship is influenced by three main factors namely; situational factors, personality and cost. Therefore, when future and actual outcomes are favorable, penetration develops to more intimate areas.
Social penetration theory describes the growth of personal relationships as rooted in the self disclosure. The theory explains that the upsurge in intimacy in relationship is consequently of individuals sharing increasingly information about themselves with one another. When people meet for the first time, they tend to share information which is general and impersonal thus limiting the range of the matters they discuss. As these folks learn about one another and time passes the depth of the disclosure increases thus revealing private information. The breadth of disclosure increases and the individuals are in a position to discuss a range of topics. The authors of this theory claim that the growth of your relationship continues if the regards that each partner gets are greater that the costs they believe they incur.
Social penetration theory depends mostly on the positive association between disclosure and the amount to which partners are emotionally committed in their relationship. Thus partners who freely disclose more information to each other have greater relational satisfaction and stability. More so, there is a linear relationship between intimacy and disclosure. For example partners experience dialectical tensions between being open and closed on what they consult with one another.
The social penetration theory holds one important assumption that mutual benefit from the partners' interaction acts as a vehicle to the amount of exchange and grows over time in confirmed relationship (Nicotera 103). The theory is mostly worried about information exchange though it also employs expression of positive and negative effect in mutual activities as other kinds of exchange. Situational influence, personality and rewards are factors which help to advertise social penetration process which is retarding. Also, the intensity and extent of self disclosure become operation measure of social penetration. Self disclosure measure is utilized in measuring personality traits that affect disclosure thus providing intimate information in regards to a person. Situational factors are mostly concerned with the ability to enter or get out of a relationship freely. Additionally it is concerned with the amount of such relationship to another person (Altman and Arnold 345).
Relationships are perceived to build up symmetrically. Interpersonal exchanges develop from superficial to non-intimate area to deeper examples of selves of the interacting people. In this case, individual therefore measure the balance of rewards and costs of the past and present exchanges. This analysis is utilized as a basis of forecasting the price and reward implication for future exchanges which might be made.
Social penetration theory differs from other exchange theories because it brings forward the issue of the self and also gives special focus on the problem of self disclosure. Social penetration is achieved through disclosure which ultimately shows the true self in providing the proper context for the facilitation of disclosure (Nicotera 103.
Research using the theory
Longitudinal studies have been carried out in attempt to investigate the functions of the social penetration theory. The study revealed that there is a pattern of reciprocal exchange as time passes as well as an equity norm which is related to the intimacy degree of the disclosure. The study also revealed that short patterns were part of the larger fluctuations. Considerable evidence indicates that through young adulthood and adolescence, self disclosure is an important factor in of formation of friend ship and its own maintenance. This is because self disclosure increases both in depth and breadth as relationships develops. Therefore, the growing intimate formation shows the mechanism by which formation of relationship is done and a reflection of the level of closeness.
Several studies using strangers show that individuals who take part in intimate disclosure are usually more liked than those individuals who restrict disclosure to matters which are not intimate. In keeping with social penetration theory, this explains that folks are getting attracted to other people who are absolve to disclose their personal information. It is because such disclosure signs cause the desire for closeness. Yet, in the early stages of your relationship, disclosures of intimate information can become a hindrance to the introduction of a relationship (Green 219). Cases of disliking have been witnessed in which a stranger disclose his intimate information. You can find some indication that within an individual conversation, personal information revealed later in the partnership is received much better than a folks information revealed earlier.
Meill and Duck conducted a study which ultimately shows that the studies on strangers generalize friendship formation in real life. These researchers asked some college or university students how they would collect information in regards to a probable friend, how they would decide to pursue the partnership and modulate the rate of development. Students gave a report that friendship formation process operate in interactions with probable friends until a conclusion is made on whether to keep with the relationship or not. Many reports on friendship formation support lots of the propositions of by Altman and Taylor. For instance, the study on the college or university students was consistent with the social penetration theory (Littlejohn 121). College student roommates who developed the closest friendships reported to have exchanged more info and even more intimate information across all categories.
Self disclosure is an activity by which friendship is set up and also it is through it that folks try to maintain their relationship. Studies have shown that young adults deliberately use intimate disclosure as a way of sustaining their relationship. A research by Rosenfeld and Kendrick supports the social penetration theory. The research indicates that the most typical reasons that young adults had for disclosing their private information to friends were friendship enhancement and maintenance. The study demonstrates friends can be differentiated from non-friends in conditions of both the quality and level of their disclosure (Husain 78). Very good friends not only disclose more of their personal information than strangers, nonetheless they also disclose more intimate information. The research also indicates that close friends are more likely to receive highly personal disclosures than none intimate friends. There may be more superficial and casual disclosure among friends than intimate disclosure. Adults exchange the most private information but on the other hand friends only exchange moderate private information.
Critique of social penetration theory
Altman and Taylor developed social penetration theory so that they can explain people's relationships. The degree of self disclosure has a significant task in the grown of relationship. Their theory is very direct and simple thus so that it is possible for one to understand. In addition, in this theory the authors have used many aspects which can relate with the real world. The social penetration theory outlines what folks go through when forming a relationship. That is evidently shown by the authors when they said that folks will continue or discontinue with a relationship depending on costs and rewards involved. In such a theory it is very easy to predict what will happen in future. This is because if the costs involved with information exchange will be more that the rewards received, then your individuals or partners will end the relationship (Littlejohn 121). On the other hand, if the rewards involved with information exchange tend to be more than the cost involved, then your partners will continue with the partnership. Furthermore this theory is super easy to understand. It is because it only has four hypothesis and three variables involved.
Altman and Taylor based their theory of social penetration theory on cost and reward. This indicates that individuals first evaluate a relationship based on the rewards and costs involved and then decide whether to continue or not (Husain 78). This isn't true because you need to not be in relationship just due to benefits expected. Relationship should therefore be evaluated on many other factors but not only on gains and costs. The authors try to suggest that people will usually form a relationship if they are guaranteed that there are some advantages to be earned from it. Most people are selfless and can form a relationship regardless of whether there are costs to be incurred or benefits to be earned from it.
Altman and Taylor associate people who are engaged to a communication process to onions. The authors declare that when people meet for the first time, they hide their information just like the onion layers (Green 219). As people continue steadily to meet, they share their personal information and thus shed off the layers rendering it easy to understand each other. The layers of self disclosure have different levels of depth and breadth which is reached through the matters shared and the nature of information in these topics.
Social penetration theory shows the status of one is changed from public to private. Therefore, a person at some time may disclose more private information than other times. A person may still not share any personal information with an exclusive person if the person is not pleasing whatsoever. This therefore indicates that based on the social penetration theory, it isn't guaranteed that a relationship will establish positively every once in awhile (Altman and Arnold 345).
The social penetration theory gives a likelihood of differentiation between the various types and kinds of the relationships by giving the notions of personality breadth and personality depth. The theory also gives a description of the several phases involved with a relationship. The relationship's development is explained by the dimensions of the social penetration process (Littlejohn 121).
A social relationship develops through interactions that let the relationship entities discover new elements of the counterpart's personality. The personality factor that get shared among the partnership parties are structured into two dimensions. These dimensions include personality breadth and personality depth. The breadth of personality has two further dimensions which include the categories and the frequencies of interactions. The frequency states the number of interactions within such a category. On the other hand, the depth of the personality represents a layering component within the entity's personality. The outer layers of the personality have more elements. Based on the social penetration theory, the inner layers tend to be more personal and fewer where the central characteristics of ones personality are found. The disclosure of components of higher personality depth gets more challenging with further advancements as these inner elements are better protected and a disclosure can be associated with risk.
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