Academics · TEACH Journals

Social Penetration Theory

All information below was written by me. I wrote this TEACH journal using “A first look at communication theory,” written by Em Griffin, Andrew Ledbetter, and Glenn Sparks

A teach Journal is used to help: T-say what the theory is,who the theorist is, and the tradition, E-explain the theory, A-apply it to your life, C-critique it, and H-how you would use it in your life, as well as find an academic journal about it.

Social Penetration Theory

T.)       Theory: Social Penetration Theory. Theorist: Irwin Altman and Dalmas Taylor. Tradition: Socio-psychological, this is because SPT studies communication as an interpersonal interaction for self-disclosure. It is an objective theory.

E.)       The social penetration theory explains how relationships develop. Social penetration is the process of developing deeper intimacy with another person through mutual self-disclosure and other forms of vulnerability. Altman and Taylor describe a person’s personality structure as being layered like an onion. In these onion like layers, beliefs and feelings about self, others, the world, and self-image are held. The outer layers of this onion-like structure are made up of a public self that is accessible to anyone. While the inner core of the structure is made up of values, self-concept, unresolved conflicts, deeply felt emotions, and closely guarded secrets.

The degree of Self-disclosure defined as, “the voluntary sharing of personal history, preferences, attitudes, feelings, values, secrets, etc., with another person; transparency,” determines the depth and penetration of the relationship. The depth of penetration is the degree of disclosure in a specific area of an individual’s life. The breadth of penetration is the range of areas in the individual’s life over which disclosure takes place. Altman and Taylor outlined four observations about the process of the depth and penetration of self-disclosure. These four observations are, peripheral items are exchanged sooner and more frequently than private information, self-disclosure is reciprocal (law of reciprocity), penetration is rapid at the star but slows down quickly as the tightly wrapped inner layers are reached, and depenetration is a gradual process of layer-by-layer withdrawal.

Altman and Taylor were influenced by the social exchange theory, and used some parts of it to create their social penetration theory. The social exchange theory bases relationship behavior based on perceived rewards and the costs of interaction. The three key components pulled from the social exchange theory are, relational outcome, relational satisfaction, and relational stability. Relational outcome is the rewards minus cost factor, it states that people will try to predict the outcome of an interaction before it takes place. If the perceived rewards or benefits outweigh the cost of having an interpersonal relationship, then a person is more likely to engage in self-disclosure in the relationship. Rational satisfaction, also called comparison level is the threshold above which an outcome seems attractive. CL is based on culture, and past experiences, this helps a personal compare whether a interpersonal relationship will have an outcome that they would like, or if the cost would be to high. Relational stability is the comparison level of alternatives. The comparison level of alternatives is defined as, the best outcome available in other relationships. It is the persons’ evaluation of the other relational options at the moment. If the outcome is greater than the CLalt and the CL (outcome >CLalt>CL) than the optimum situation for both parties has been reached.

Claiming one’s own territory also plays a role in social penetration theory. The tendency to claim a physical location or object as our own, has an impact on self-disclosure, and relationships. Claiming territory shows that the onion like layers of social penetration includes both the mind and physical space. One thing to keep in mind with the social penetration theory is, ethical egoism. Ethical egoism is the belief that individuals should live their lives so as to maximize their own pleasure and minimize their own pain. Unlike most social scientists who limit their study to what is rather than what ought to be, ethical egoists claim that we should act selfishly. Sense this is an objective theory, is it right and good to for the researchers and people in general to only think of their own needs and happiness.

A.)       An example of my own life that can apply to this theory is meeting new neighbors. I had a neighbor move next door two years ago and I would just say hi when I saw her. Sometime I would make small talk to be friendly, learning about her through observation. Over the past two years we have become friends, not close friends, but social acuatinces that chat on the porch a few times a week. Now my neighbor is very open about her personal life, while I am sort of closed off. I share a little bit here and there, about my daughter, my mom dying, a few personal things, but not much. She however, talks about everything. The other day she was telling me about how she hates wearing underware, and the first thing I thought was to much information, and then I realized that this can go with the social penetration theory. She has said things to me that shows that she may not tell me her inner core emotions, but the depth and breadth of penetration can apply to her. After I realized this I told her I was going to write about her in my teach journal because she self-discloses a lot, and I thought it would go well with the application part of this journal.

C.)       There are a few positive critiques to this theory. The social penetration theory brings a new understanding of people and how relationships are formed, and self-disclosure works within those relationships. This theory is also fairly easy to understand and has a certain aesthetic appeal that makes the theory easier to understand and read. The negative critiques for social penetration theory would be that there is not a lot of community agreement. In the end of the chapter quite a few scholars are mentioned stating that they do not agree with parts of the social penetration theory, and question the reward-cost analysis. The social penetration theory does not try to reform society. There is no information to assume that Altman and Taylor wanted to generate a positive change, or challenge the assumptions of the culture.

H.)       I can apply this theory to my life to help me understand how I open up to people that are in my life, or will be down the road. Understanding how self-disclosure works, and the process behind social penetrations, has given me a greater understanding on how my relationships work and how I can make new relationships with people.

Article: Self-Disclosure Among Bloggers: Re-Examination of Social Penetration Theory.

Based on Social Penetration theory, this study explores the topics that bloggers disclose on their blogs, and in the real world. It examined the depth and width of what bloggers self-disclosed to three target audiences (online audience, best friend, and parents), confirming that their disclosure is significantly different for each of these target audiences.

Tang, J., & Wang, C. (2012). Self-Disclosure Among Bloggers: Re-Examination of Social Penetration Theory. Cyberpsychology, Behavior & Social Networking15(5), 245-250. doi:10.1089/cyber.2011.0403

I choose this article because I am considered a blogger, and the title jumped out to me when I saw it, it seems very interesting.


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