Social Penetration Theory

Topics: Onion

Social Penetration Theory is the theory that interpersonal relationships evolve in some gradual and predictable fashion. Relationships progress from nonintimate to intimate in varying degrees depending on the intent or the want of the people. The process of building the relationship is predictable or follows some kind of pattern. You can’t predict the outcome of a relationship but you can predict the steps along the way. Along with relationships growing and evolving you also have erosion or depenetration of the relationship.

Every relationship faces problems or speed bumps or transgressions that depenetrate the relationship. At the core of the relationship, development is self-disclosure. It can affect the relationship for good or for bad. It is the meat of the personal information that you share about yourself with each other.

Altman and Taylor compare the relationship to an onion. The outer layer of the onion is the person’s public image or the way people see you. As the communication or relationship evolves you peel back another layer to the onion and one party will disclose something to the other person and it makes that person more comfortable to disclose something about them.

This is Reciprocity. For a relationship to grow or the layers of the onion to peel back it depends on the breadth, breadth time, and depth of the discussions. The depth of the discussion is what strengthens the relationship. Once you have developed a relationship and have shared intimate exchanges, the penetration gets to the core of the onion or the core of oneself.

Get quality help now
Dr. Karlyna PhD

Proficient in: Onion

4.7 (235)

“ Amazing writer! I am really satisfied with her work. An excellent price as well. ”

+84 relevant experts are online
Hire writer

Once somebody has had access to your core then they will always have access to your core, for good or for bad in some way.

I chose this theory because it was one of the easiest for me to relate to. It made me think of a lot of the relationships that I have or have had whether it be friends, family, or love interests, and how the relationships developed. I enjoyed the discussions we did on this chapter and reading everybody’s threads they posted. I feel like I learned more about my classmates on this theory than any other theory we discussed.

When learning about this theory and knowing that I was going to write this paper made me think of 50 First Dates. The film is about a guy that dates and uses a lot of girls and doesn’t have any interest to commit to a serious relationship because of being hurt by a past girlfriend. Until he meets a girl that is different than any other girl that he has met. He finds out that from an accident that she has no short-term memory and every day she wakes up she forgets everything that has happened in the recent past. He starts talking to her and building a relationship with her. The interesting thing is that he starts falling in love with her but she forgets everything from the day before and doesn’t remember him. So the process of building the relationship almost starts over every day. As he is opening up and self-disclosing himself every day he starts to peel back the onion and work his way to her core. At first, every day even though he knows better he has to act like they are on the outer layer or public image of the onion. They find out that even though she forgets every day when she wakes up down in her core she still knows him and feels him. Once they made that connection and fell in love it did something to her that the doctor said couldn’t happen.

In one of the scenes, it shows him going up to her the day after they met and having a good connection, not knowing that she forgot everything from the day before and he walked right up to her and started making jokes. She not being able to remember, got offended and told him to get lost. In his mind, the relationship had gotten a little further and peeled back a layer or two of the onion but in hers, it was still the very outer layer. In another scene after they had broken up and he hadn’t seen her for a while he decided he wanted to see if deep down she would remember him. He went to see her and asked her if she knew who he was? She said no but wanted to show him something. She took him into a room with a bunch of paintings. All of the paintings were paintings of him. She said, “I don’t know who you are but I dream about you every day”. Even though she couldn’t remember who he was he had access to her core because he had been there before.

The authors of this theory are Irwin Altman and Dalmas Taylor. Altman has a Ph.D. in Psychology and studies close relationships in family, friends, and intimates. He is currently an emeritus faculty member at the University of Utah and is involved in many professional Psychology groups. Taylor had a Ph.D. in Psychology he received a couple of distinguished contribution awards for education and psychology. He was the founder of the minority fellowship program in the American Psychological Association. He passed away in 1998 at the age of 64. They developed the theory to understand the closeness of two individuals. They did it by conducting an extensive study on social bonding in various types of couples. The director of the film is Peter Segal. I believe the message that he is trying to convey to the audience is love conquers everything. Sometimes some things are unexplainable or hard in life where love is the only logical answer. This relates somewhat to Social Penetration theory for the fact that when two people fall in love it goes deep down to their core and it is a process to fall in love. I’m not sure if Mr. Segal knew about this theory. I didn’t see anything that made me think that he for sure knew about it as I watched the movie.

Studying this topic showed me that in most relationships you can look at and break down the path or the structure of the formation of the relationship. I had never really thought of it that way before, but when you stop and think about it it makes a lot of sense. It has changed the way I think about building relationships. When I meet somebody and start with a small talk I think of the outer layer of the onion and as I get to know them more I see the layers coming off.

Cite this page

Social Penetration Theory. (2022, May 12). Retrieved from

Let’s chat?  We're online 24/7