From the Instructors Manual
Normal (click on theory name to show detail) | Show All details | Clear details
Chapter 8—Social Penetration Theory
- Developed by social psychologists Irwin Altman and Dalmas Taylor, social penetration theory explains how relational closeness develops.
- Closeness develops only if individuals proceed in a gradual and orderly fashion from superficial to intimate levels of exchange as a function of both immediate and forecast outcomes.
- Personality structure: a multilayered onion.
- The outer layer is the public self.
- The inner core is one’s private domain.
- Closeness through self-disclosure.
- The main route to deep social penetration is through self-disclosure.
- With the onion-wedge model, the depth of penetration represents the degree of personal disclosure.
- The layers of the onion are tougher near the center.
- The depth and breadth of self-disclosure.
- Peripheral items are exchanged more frequently and sooner than private information.
- Self-disclosure is reciprocal, especially in early stages of relationship development.
- Penetration is rapid at the start, but slows down quickly as the tightly wrapped inner layers are reached.
- Societal norms prevent too much early self-disclosure.
- Most relationships stall before a stable intimate exchange is established.
- Genuine intimate exchange is rare but when it is achieved, relationships become meaningful and enduring.
- Sharing personal narratives, which tend to contain a carefully structured story, deeper emotion, and greater detail than other shared information, is a quick path to stronger bonds.
- Depenetration is a gradual process of layer-by-layer withdrawal.
- For true intimacy, depth and breadth of penetration are equally important.
- Regulating closeness on the basis of rewards and costs.
- Social penetration theory draws heavily on the social exchange theory of John Thibaut and Harold Kelley.
- If perceived mutual benefits outweigh the costs of greater vulnerability, the process of social penetration will proceed.
- Three important concepts are: relational outcome; relational satisfaction; and relational stability.
- Relational outcome: Rewards minus costs.
- Thibaut and Kelley suggest that people try to predict the outcome of an interaction before it takes place.
- The economic approach to determining behavior dates from John Stuart Mill’s principle of utility.
- The minimax principle of human behavior claims that people seek to maximize benefits and minimize costs.
- The higher we index a relational outcome, the more attractive the behavior that might make it happen.
- Social exchange theory assumes that people can accurately gauge the benefits of their actions and make sensible choices based on their predictions.
- As relationships develop, the nature of interaction that friends find rewarding evolves.
- Gauging relational satisfaction- The comparison level (CL).
- A person’s CL is the threshold above which an outcome appears attractive.
- One’s CL for friendship, romance, or family ties is pegged by one’s relational history, the baseline of past experience.
- Sequence and trends play large roles in evaluating a relationship.
- Gauging relational stability- The comparison level of alternatives (CLalt).
- The CLalt is the best relational outcomes currently available outside the relationship.
- While one’s CL is relatively stable over time, CLalt compares the options at the current moment.
- When existent outcomes slide below an established CLalt, relational instability increases.
- Social exchange theories have an economic orientation.
- The CLalt explains why people sometimes stay in unsatisfying relationships.
- Some women endure abuse because Outcome > CLalt.
- They will leave only when CLalt > Outcome.
- The relative values of Outcome, CL, and CLalt help determine one’s willingness to disclose.
- Optimum disclosure will occur when both parties believe that Outcome > CLalt > CL.
- A relationship can be more than satisfying if it is stable, but other satisfying options are also available (in case this relationship turns sour).
- Ethical reflection: Epicurus’ ethical egoism.
- Psychological egoism reflects many social scientists’ conviction that all of us are motivated by self-interest.
- Ethical egoism claims we should act selfishly.
- Epicurus emphasized the passive pleasures of friendship, good digestion, and above all, the absence of pain.
- Other philosophers (Thomas Hobbes, Adam Smith, Friedrich Nietzsche, Ayn Rand) echo the Epicurean call for selfish concern.
- Dialectics and the environment.
- Altman originally thought that openness is the predominant quality of relationship changes. The desire for privacy may counteract a unidirectional quest for intimacy.
- A dialectical model suggests that human social relationships are characterized by openness or contact and closedness or separateness between participants.
- Altman also identified the environment as a heuristic cue that might guide our decisions to disclose.
- Disclosing of one’s self may include both our cognitive space (our minds, thoughts) and our physical space or territory.
- Sandra Petronio’s Communication Privacy Management theory maps out the intricate ways people manage boundaries around their personal information.
- Critique: Pulling back from social penetration.
- Petronio thinks it’s simplistic to equate self-disclosure with relational closeness.
- She also challenges the theorists’ view of disclosure boundaries as being fixed and increasingly less permeable.
- Can a complex blend of advantages and disadvantages be reliably reduced to a single index?
- Are people so consistently selfish that they always opt to act strictly in their own best interest?
- Paul Wright believes that friendships often reach a point of such closeness that self-centered concerns are no longer salient.
You can access the Outline for a particular chapter in several ways:
- Switch to View by Theory, then select the desired theory/chapter from the drop-down list at the top of the page. Look in the list of available resources.
- To quickly find a theory by chapter number, use the Table of Contents and link from there. It will take you directly to the theory with available options highlighted.
- You can also use the Theory List, which will take you directly to the theory with available options highlighted.
Back to top