Social Penetration Theory

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Founder of the theory

The founders of the theory were Irwin Altman and Dalmas Taylor. Altman is a distinguished professor of psychology at the University of Utah whereby Taylor is a professor of psychology at the University of Texas, Arlington.

Altman and Taylor developed this theory to provide an understanding of the closeness between two individuals. Apparently, social penetration is defined as a process that moves a relationship from non-intimate to intimate. The theory states that this process occurs primarily through self-disclosure and it is guided by the assumptions that relationship development is systematic and predictable and it is also include deterioration or growing apart. This theory also claims that people’s relationships will progress through four stages; orientation stage, exploratory affective exchange stage, affective exchange stage and stable exchange stage, before reaching stability where communication is open and partners are highly intimate.

Moreover, Social Penetration theory asserts that as relationships develop people communication from superficial to deeply personal topics, slowing penetrating the communicators’ public persona to reach their core personality or sense of self. Initially viewed as a direct, continuous penetration from public person to private person, social penetration is considered to be a cyclical and dialectical. Relationships have normal ebbs and flows. They do not automatically get better and better where the participants learn more and more about each other. Instead, the participants have to work through the tensions of the relationship (the dialectic) while they learn and group themselves in a relationships. At times the relationships are very open and sharing. Other time, one or both parties to the relationship need their space, or have other concerns, and the relationship is less open. The theory posits that these cycles occur throughout the life of the relationship as the persons try to balance



References: 1. Allman, I., & Taylor, D., (1973). Social Penetration: The Development of Interpersonal Relationships. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston. 2. Anderson, R., & Ross, V. (1998) Questions of communication: A practical introduction to theory (2nd ed.). New York: St. Martin’s Press. 3. Cragan, J.F., & Shields, D.C. (1998). Understanding communication theory: The communicative forces for human action. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon. 4. Griffin, E. (1997). A first look at communication theory (3rd ed). New York: McGraw-Hill. 5. Littlejohn, S.W.(1999). Theories of human communication (6th ed). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. 6. Social Penetration Theory http://oak.cats.ohiou.edu 7. Social Penetration Theory http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/theory/spt.html

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