Social Penetration Theory

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Developed in the early 1970s, the Social Penetration Theory is a theory that explains the relational development between human beings. Theorists Irwin Altman and Dalmas Taylor found that relationships develop in four steps. The first stage, orientation, is generally between strangers in which specific information is not shared between the two parties and both parties are cautious about their own actions. The second stage of the Social Penetration Theory is exploratory affective exchange stage, which is when the two strangers begin to open up to each other and share more personal information. While complete trust and comfort are not achieved yet, the parties are beginning to develop their relationship to become more than mere strangers or acquaintances. The third stage in the Social Penetration Theory is the affective exchange stage. During this stage, closer friendships are fostered and romantic relationships are determined. The final stage of Altman and Taylor’s Social Penetration Theory is the stable exchange stage where the comfort level and the openness of the two parties are furthered. At this point in the relationship, communication may be exchanged via both verbal and nonverbal ways. When examining the Social Penetration Theory, it is clear that while Altman and Taylor’s theory is relatively thorough, there are still some aspects in which the theory is not applicable. Critique 1: Reliability in Testing Procedures The Social Penetration Theory, although thoroughly tested to an extent, was unable to be tested to its fullest thus making it a fallible theory. Due to the content of the theory, it should have been tested under long-term circumstances; however, because of the invasive nature of following a relationship for such a long time, the theory was instead tested in shorter spans as a “truncated model of the [original] theory” (Miller, 1959, p. 173). The

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