Social Penetration Theory and Online Self-Disclosure

Social Penetration Theory and Online Self-Disclosure


Social Penetration theory explains how comparative intimacy grows between two people. Social penetration is a method of growing deep-seated closeness with someone else through shared self-disclosure and alternative models of susceptibility. Self-disclosure has four attributes, namely: valence, intent, amount and honesty (Altman & Taylor,1973). The social penetration theory states that a long-lasting defense can check the intimacy two people can accomplish. The costs and benefits increase with an increase in friendship. It is common for people who are dating online to disclose their private information at a faster rate than people who meet face to face (Ji and Lieber, 2008). This research paper will look into the social penetration theory and online self-disclosure.    

Preview of Literature

To most effectively explore these issues surrounding the Social Penetration Theory, a subset of literature has been selected based on its relevance to the following questions:  

1) How should the Social Penetration Theory be defined?

Social Penetration theory explains how comparative intimacy grows between two people (Altman & Taylor,1973). In 1973, Irwin Altman and Dalmas Taylor described the Social Penetration Theory. Their academic work was a breakthrough in the study of the Social Penetration Theory. Their work discussed the major characteristics of this theory. The authors compare people to onions to show the multilayered structure of human personality. Just like an onion, people can describe you a little bit based on your behaviors or physical appearance.

2) What concerns have been raised over the use of the Social Penetration Theory? 

The theory is too simple. It is overly simplified to compare self-disclosure with friendships. Revealing personal information can bring about intimacy although some people can disclose their personal information just to release tension, or express their selves.

3) Are current laws on the Social Penetration Theory related to earlier works?

Later, the works of Ji and Lieber employed the cost- reward analysis ideas of Atman and Taylor as the main aspect for revealing personal information (Ji and Lieber, 2008). Today, Jiang, Bazarova, and Hancock (2013) in From Perception to Behavior have extended the Social Penetration Theory of Altman and Taylor. The studies were done by Jiang et al., extend the Social Penetration theory. The width and depth of interchange did not always go hand in hand, contrary to the social penetration theory on the coloration of disclosure commonness and intimacy (Jiang et al., 2013).

Online Dating

Online dating occurs when people communicate through the internet intending to get romantic partners. These relationships begin online and after lots of communication, the parties involved meet offline (face to face or FtF). Gibbs et al. state that due to the widespread use of the internet, this phenomenon has become more and more common (2006). The participants often use e-mails, messaging platforms, videos, photographs, and chat rooms in representing themselves. Self-disclosure is any personal information that you give another person. A study of the Chinese dating site revealed than more than 67% of its members have undergraduate degrees while at least 33% have post-graduate degrees. Since each user is required to upload a scanned copy of their original ID on registration, many people think it is a reliable website. Besides, most of its members come from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macao. All these factors make the users reveal their behaviors and information. It becomes much easier for them to create close relationships (Ji and Lieber, 2008).      

Self-Disclosure in Romantic Relationships

According to Ji and Lieber, people with lasting goals of starting face to face (FtF) friendships are involved in more self-disclosure through more honesty, reveal lots of their private information, and make alert and informed revelations to their online friends, resulting in satisfying relationships (2008). Their revelations are not more positive than those who don’t value FtF friendships. They are more realistic since they disclose both their positive and negative attributes.  This is because they are aware that their traits will be known with time as they continue to grow these FtF friendships (Gibbs et al., 2006). Anticipated FtF friendships contribute to more truthful and deliberate self-revelation in online dating.  Self-disclosure varies between people who use CMC relying upon their goals in a relationship.

Self-Disclosure Through Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC)

The arbitrary character of CMC offers the parties involved increased chances to introduce themselves emphatically and deliberately. Individuals who expect more communication with their CMC friends ask more private questions and reveal more information about their selves in comparison with those who meet offline (Gibbs et al, 2006). People who engage in CMC are more intimate than FtF. When one party discloses their personal information, the other party reciprocates by revealing more personal information on their part (Jiang et al., 2013). Online strangers disclose more about their feelings, wants and wishes (Ji and Lieber, 2008).  


This research paper analyzed the social penetration theory and online self-disclosure. Altman and Taylor made the first breakthrough in “discovering” the social penetration theory. This theory was later advanced by Jiang et al., and Ji & Lieber in 2013 and 2008 respectively. People are more susceptible to reveal personal information to strangers online, than to people they have met in real life. Online dating takes place when people communicate using the world wide web with the primary purpose of starting a romantic relationship. Computer-Mediated Communication increases intimacy since the individuals involved share detailed information about their feelings, wants and wishes.  






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