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Social Penetration Theory

 

Explanations > Theories > Social Penetration Theory

Description | Research | Example | So What? | See also | References 

 

Description

As relationships develop, they penetrate deeper and deeper into private and personal matters. This exposes vulnerabilities, so trust has to be developed along the way. 

Penetration goes through a number of stages.

1. Orientation stage. Here, we play safe with small talk and simple, harmless clichés like ‘Life’s like that’, following standards of social desirability and norms of appropriateness.

2. Exploratory affective stage. We now start to reveal ourselves, expressing personal attitudes about moderate topics such as government and education. This may not be the whole truth as we are not yet comfortable to lay ourselves bare. We are still feeling our way forward. This is the stage of casual friendship, and many relationships do not go past this stage.

3. Affective stage. Now we start to talk about private and personal matters. We may use personal idioms. Criticism and arguments may arise. There may be intimate touching and kissing at this stage.

4. Stable stage. The relationship now reaches a plateau in which personal things are shared and each can predict the emotional reactions of the other person.

5. Depenetration. When the relationship starts to break down and costs exceed benefits, then there is a withdrawal of disclosure which leads to termination of the relationship.

Example

This can be seen in conversations at parties, as strangers steadily chat each other up. 

So what?

Using it

In building a relationship, notice the stages and do not try to hurry things too much. For example do not get too intimate in your touching when the other person is still reticent.

Defending

Know how far and how fast you want to go in a relationship. Do not let the other person hurry or push you.

See also

Stage Theory, Filter Theory, Stimulus-Value-Role Model

 

References

Altman and Taylor (1973), Altman and Taylor (1987)

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