Social Penetration

Topics: Interpersonal relationship, John Hughes, The Breakfast Club Pages: 5 (1449 words) Published: June 27, 2006
Why do some relationships progress quickly more than others? In order to understand this, relationship must be defined. According to Merriam-Webster's Dictionary, "A relationship is a type of connection existing between people that have a relation or dealing with each other." It is through the process of communication, which is the process where human beings transmit ideas, information, and attitudes to one another, that our relationships are forged. Without communication there would be no relationships involved with people. Many communication scholars have tried to study on how these relationships develop. Irwin Altman and Dalmas Taylor had developed a theory, social penetration, to explain how relationships are established and explain the four sequential stages humans might go through in order to achieve and/or maintain a relationship. In John Hughes' The Breakfast Club, the four stages of social penetration theory are shown when five high school students from different social groups are forced to spend a Saturday together in detention, they find themselves interacting with and understanding each other for the first time. Social Penetration Theory was first coined by Social Psychologist's Irwin Altman and Dalmas Taylor. The theory posits that as relationships develop communication moves from non-intimate levels to deeper and more personal ones. "According to Altman and Taylor, they specify that relationships go through sequential stages as they develop" (Miller 167). In the earliest stage, orientation, individuals play it safe with small talk. "This involved the gathering of biographical data, the avoidance of disharmony, and the observation of the other's behaviors" (Helms ¶ 21). They are very cautious and hesitant in their interaction with others. "In the second stage, exploratory affective exchange, the individual begins to relax their guard a bit and share some information[such as moderate topics like government and education] beyond socially approved small talk of the orientation stage" (Miller 167). This is the stage of casual friendship and many relationships do not past this stage. In the affective exchange, many barriers are broken. "The ‘affective exchange' is considered a transitional stage to the highest level of intimacy possible. It consists of the process one uses to separate the people in which they wish to stay close with and further develop a relationship with versus the ones that they do not" (Smith ¶ 8). Finally, in the stable exchange, the relationship now reaches its plateau because "this is the highest level that one can achieve as far as relationships are concerned" (Smith ¶ 9). "The stable stage consists of development in growing relationships and is characterized by continuous openness, as well as richness across all layers of personality" (Roloff 259). "You know the [person] at the deepest level possible, there are no secrets that the two of you cannot and do not share….two individuals bear their souls and risk all to have complete closeness with one another." (Smith ¶10). 

In John Hughes' The Breakfast Club, five high school students from completely different backgrounds meet in Saturday detention from 7a.m.-4p.m. which serves as a punishment for the things they separately did wrong. The five high school students are Andrew Clark, who is in the wrestling team; John Bender, a stoner who likes to pick on everyone; Claire Standish, who is very popular in school; Allison Reynolds, who is unpopular and does not belong in a crowd; and Brian Johnson, a nerd who excels academically. While in detention, Mr. Vernon, the principal of the school gives them a simple assignment. They must write an essay about "who you think you are." Each person has a good idea of what the other is. Yet, through several discussions and arguments, they learn that they have more similarities than at first sight. John Bender initially focuses his anger at Andrew and Claire. His outward hatred...

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Borcher, T. (1999) Interpersonal Communication: Self Disclosure
The Breakfast Club
Brill, Michael. Transformation, Nostalgia, and Illusion in Public Life and Public place. Human Communication Research. 2(2, Winter), (1976) 7-24.
Brown, Barbara B., Altman, Irwin, and Werner, Carol M.(1992). Close relationships in the physical and social world: Dialectical and transactional analyses. Communication Yearbook. 15, 508-521.
Helms, A. (2003). Social Penetration: The Development of Interpersonal Relationships Among Roommates.
Merriam-Webster 's Dictionary 2002 Merriam-Webster, Inc
Roloff, Michael, and Gerald R. Miller.  Interpersonal Processes. Beverly Hills: Sage Publications, Inc. 1987
Smith, R
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