From IS Theory
Jump to navigation Jump to search



Alternate name(s)


Main dependent construct(s)/factor(s)


Main independent construct(s)/factor(s)

shallow and deep disclosure

Concise description of theory

Social penetration theory seeks to explain the role of information exchange in the development and dissolution of interpersonal relationships. The theory seeks to explain the process of bonding which decides if a relationship is at a superficial level or at an intimate level and how the relationship moves from one level to another (Altman & Taylor, 1973)

As per the theory, the levels of relationships are arranged metaphorically as an ‘onion’, with the outer layer as the least intimate relationship and the inner core as the most intimate relationship. The public image, which is visible to others, forms the outer layer. On the other hand, the private self forms the inner core and it revealed only to significant others over a period through disclosure.

For relationships to develop there must be an exchange of information. Vital to social penetration is breadth, which is the number of topics discussed and depth, which is the degree of intimacy that guides these interactions. Breadth encompasses the variety of topics discussed.

Another important aspect of SPT is the concept of self‐disclosure. It passes through many phases as an interpersonal relationship progresses from least intimate to most intimate (Taylor & Altman, 1987). These stages are 1) orientation 2) exploratory affective exchange 3) affective exchange 4) stable exchange.

Orientation: In this stage, people share only superficial information, or the outermost layer, about themselves. Exploratory affective exchange: In this stage, people share details beyond the most superficial information and use less caution when self‐disclosing.

Affective exchange: In this stage, the more intermediate layers are shared, and interactions are increasingly casual.

Stable exchange: The main aspects of this stage are openness, breadth, and depth across conversation topics. Some important characteristics of this stage are honesty, intimacy, and open expression of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

This theory also explains social depenetration, which happens when self‐disclosure is reduced because of interpersonal conflict and relational stressors (Taylor & Altman, 1987). Social depenetration is the deliberate hiding of some portions of a person’s life to another person.

Diagram/schematic of theory


Originating author(s)

Irwin Altman, Dalmas Taylor

Seminal articles

Altman, I., & Taylor, D. (1973). Social penetration theory. New York: Holt, Rinehart &\Mnston.

Baack, D., Fogliasso, C., & Harris, J. (2000). The personal impact of ethical decision: A social penetration theory. Journal of Business Ethics, 24(1), 39-49.

Level of analysis


IS articles that use the theory

Lim, J. Y. K. (2018). IT-enabled awareness and self-directed leadership behaviors in virtual teams. Information and Organization, 28(2), 71-88.

Osatuyi, B., Passerini, K., Ravarini, A., & Grandhi, S. A. (2018). “Fool me once, shame on you… then, I learn.” An examination of information disclosure in social networking sites. Computers in Human Behavior, 83, 73-86.

Huang, H. Y. (2016). Examining the beneficial effects of individual's self-disclosure on the social network site. Computers in human behavior, 57, 122-132.

Osatuyi, B. (2015). Is lurking an anxiety-masking strategy on social media sites? The effects of lurking and computer anxiety on explaining information privacy concern on social media platforms. Computers in Human Behavior, 49, 324-332

Utz, S. (2015). The function of self-disclosure on social network sites: Not only intimate, but also positive and entertaining self-disclosures increase the feeling of connection. Computers in Human Behavior, 45, 1-10.

Posey, C., Lowry, P. B., Roberts, T. L., & Ellis, T. S. (2010). Proposing the online community self-disclosure model: the case of working professionals in France and the UK who use online communities. European Journal of Information Systems, 19(2), 181-195

Links from this theory to other theories

Social Exchange Theory

External links

Original Contributor(s)

Jithesh A

Please feel free to make modifications to this site. In order to do so, you must register.