Professors Irwin Altman and Dalmas Taylor proposed Social Penetration Theory to describe one model of interpersonal relationship. Whether it is a friendship or romantic relationship, it always starts from superficial to deeper interactions. The process is like peeling layers of an onion. The outer layer is biophysical info and each inner layer get more personal. The key for a good interpersonal relationship is self-disclosure. If one party discloses personal information, such as feelings, emotions, goals, etc., and the other reciprocates, the relationship goes deeper. But self-disclosure too early, too fast can be risky. You may scare people, the information cannot be retrieved and you may get ridiculed.
Measuring the relationship can be on the basis of rewards and costs. It is quite personal, but if one party believes the rewards are bigger than the costs, then it is a good relationship.
Other measurements of relationship include comparison level and comparison level of alternatives. The former measures the satisfaction within a relationship. Are you happy and satisfied in your relationship? The latter measures the best outcome comparing with other relationships. Is your relationship better than any other available alternatives?
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Social Penetration Theory, Aug. 26, 2020
Read “Social Penetration Theory” and think of the following questions for discussion.
When people encounter for the first time in public at socials, what can they learn about one another?
What topics do casual acquaintances talk about?
If they want to know more than superficial impression, what should they do?
What kind of information is necessary to know a person well?
What secrets are guarded tightly by people?
How can people get close to one another?
Four observations of depth of self-disclosure:
Peripheral info first, privacy later
Self-disclosure is reciprocal
Penetration fast at beginning and slows down later
Depenetration is gradual and cooling slowly, like a movie shown in reverse.
Watch the video on Social Penetration Theory.
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Social Penetration Theory provides a model for interpersonal relations, either friendship or romance.
Irwin Altman and Dalmas Taylor, authors of the theory, compared personality structure to a multilayered onion.
The surface is the look that people can see, biographical data like height, built, colors, voices, smile, etc.
Peeling off a layer of skin reveals a semi-private layer, something people can casually talk about without much consequences, such as preferences in clothes, food, and music.
Removing that layer exposes another layer, such as one’s goals, aspirations. The next layer would be politics, religious convictions, and so on.
Getting to know people is like peeling off layers of an onion. it goes faster at the beginning, but slows down as getting deeper.
Some people do not expose the inner core, or concept of self, to others.
How to get closeness
There are indirect paths, such as asking friends, internet social media search, observation. The main route to deeper social penetration is self-disclosure. Direct conversation is the best way to get to know another person. Through conversation, you gradually talk about deeper layers of yourselves, the relationship progresses at the same time.
However, once you open up, it will be no return. If there is no reciprocity, your disclosed information becomes vulnerable. Be cautious.
The Process of Knowing Someone Involves Four Steps:
1. Peripheral items are exchanged sooner and more frequently that private info.
Studies show about 80% of talks among strangers/first encounters are inpersonal or public items. About 19% of the topics in their conversations are semiprivate, and only 1% is private.
2. Self-disclosure is reciprocal, especially in the early stages of relationship development.
Law of reciprocity: One party disclosures more private info, becomes vulnerable, transparent, trustworthy, attractive.
Another party matches up and reaches balance. Can you explain why?
Social penetration theory asserts a law of reciprocity.
3. Penetration is rapid at the start but slows down quickly as the tightly wrapped inner layers are reached.
Penetration slows down near the intimate core. People can tell just so much, and then slow down the disclosure. Most relationships stall. Many relationships fade or die after separation, strain. On a few progress to intimacy. These few relationships endure and become more important, meaningful.
4. Depenetration is a gradual process of layer-by-layer withdrawal.
Relationships will deteriorate if both parties close down. People will take back the areas of their lives that have previously been opened. Relational retreat is taking back of what has already been exchanged in the relationship. Altman and Taylor, authors of the theory, compared the process to a movie shown in reverse.
Depenetration is a gradual process. It closes off certain areas of life. Emotional retreat takes back of what has been exchanged. Surface talks continue. Relationships terminate gradually.