Who Developed the Social Penetration Theory?


Jane Flores

The Social Penetration Theory is a communication theory developed by Irwin Altman and Dalmas Taylor in 1973. The theory explains how interpersonal relationships develop over time through self-disclosure, or the process of revealing personal information about oneself to another person.

The Founders

Irwin Altman was an American social psychologist born on June 25, 1922, in Boston, Massachusetts. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Harvard University in 1947 and went on to earn his Ph.D. in social psychology from the University of Minnesota in 1951. Throughout his career, Altman published numerous articles and books on social psychology and interpersonal relationships.

Dalmas Taylor, also an American social psychologist was born on December 22, 1920, in Filer, Idaho. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Idaho in 1942 before serving as a pilot during World War II. After the war ended, Taylor resumed his studies and earned his Ph. in social psychology from Ohio State University in 1950.

The Theory

According to the Social Penetration Theory, self-disclosure occurs gradually over time as individuals become more comfortable with one another. This process involves four stages: orientation, exploratory affective exchange, affective exchange, and stable exchange.

In the orientation stage, individuals engage in small talk and superficial conversation to establish a basic level of comfort with one another. In the exploratory affective exchange stage, they begin to reveal more personal information about themselves such as their likes/dislikes and hobbies.

As they move into the affective exchange stage, individuals start disclosing more intimate information such as their fears and past experiences which leads to greater emotional closeness between them. Finally, when individuals reach the stable exchange stage they have reached a level of complete openness with each other.


In conclusion, the Social Penetration Theory developed by Irwin Altman and Dalmas Taylor in 1973 is a valuable tool for understanding how interpersonal relationships develop over time through self-disclosure. Their research provided insight into the critical role that communication plays in building strong relationships. The theory has been widely applied in various fields such as counseling, psychology, and organizational communication, making it an essential element of modern-day communication studies.