The basics of social penetration theory

Social penetration theory was developed by Taylor and Altman in 1973. It offers a general approach to the interpersonal attractions that look at the development of different interpersonal relationships, including close friendships. It considers this process systematic and gradual. Besides, the theory looks at how any friendship moves from the superficial and peripheral levels of exchange to becoming intimate friends. The development of all relationships is affected by key factors. They include costs, personality, and situational factors. This means that when actual and future outcomes are quite favorable, a friendship is more likely to develop to its deeper levels.

Social penetration theory also describes the growth of all personal relationships as something linked with people’s self-disclosure. What does it explain? It explains that any increases in intimacy in interpersonal relationships are resulted by people sharing more and more information about their life and personalities. For example, when they meet for the first time, people start sharing impersonal and general information, thus limiting a range of subjects discussed. What will happen next? As they keep learning more about each other, the depth of their discloser increases, so they start revealing their personal information. They discuss a range of matters.

The authors of social penetration theory suggest that the development of all relationships continues if the benefits partners get are greater than the costs that they pay. It’s mostly based on positing associations between a disclosure and a certain degree to which people are emotionally committed in their communication. It says that people should disclose more information. This is how they receive greater stability and relationship satisfaction.

There’s a linear connection between people’s disclosure and intimacy, and many examples can show and prove it. For instance, partners tend to experience dialectical tensions between being closed and open about what they discuss. This theory makes important assumptions that mutual profits matter. It’s focused mainly on efficient informational exchanges and uses the expression of both negative and positive effects in mutual activities.

What can help promote a social penetration process? There are different factors involved, such as potential rewards, situational influences, personal traits, and others. A level of relationships also matters a lot. Self-disclosure measures are used to determine those personal traits that affect the ability of partners to share their intimate information with each other.
Social penetration theory differs from other existing exchange theories. It pays close attention to self-disclosure. The main idea is that social penetration is achieved only through the disclosure that shows true personalities in providing the right context. It states that both costs and rewards should be forecasted and measures to evaluate the development of interpersonal relationships.

The theory offers a unique possibility to differentiate all relationships. It evaluates their forms, types, and levels by giving notions to both personality depth and personality breadth. It offers a clear description of different relationship phases and explains a development through specific dimensions of a social penetration process. Outer layers of all people have many elements. Based on social penetration theory, inner layers are considered more personal. Their disclosure is more difficult because they are better protected and their disclosure to others is often associated with a high risk. That’s why people tend to share their personal information only with their dear ones, such as family members and close friends.