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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. 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.

If perceived mutual benefits outweigh the costs of greater vulnerability, the process of social penetration will proceed. Social penetration theory draws heavily on the social exchange theory of John Thibaut and Harold Kelley. 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...
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