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Nicholas A.

Cook
Social Penetration Theory is a theory of relationships and their progression. It started in
1973 by two researchers, Altman and Taylor, after observing how couples become couples.
According to the book, Introducing Communication Theory Analysis Application, SPT refers to
the progression of superficial communication to more in depth and intimate communication. This
occurs in four stages that characterizes the changes in communication.
Since the progression occurs in stages, it can be extrapolated that intimacy in
communication is predictive. In connection to Uncertainty Reduction Theory, people have an
innate desire to alleviate internal stress of the unknown, in this case the unknown is one another.
Both parties can do this through self-disclosure, or by revealing tidbits of information about
themselves over time. This causes trust to be formed and thus pushing the relationship further
towards intimacy. Based on this sense of trust, topics in communication between the two parties
can vary and the time discussing each one; this is known as breadth and its time. However, if
progression doesnt occur the relationship can depenetrate and dissolve. This can stem from
many things that happened in the relationship like mistrust or fights.
First stage is the orientation stage, where people begin to release initial safe information
like their name and where they are from. Another name would also be called the ice breaker.
Once the initial coat of protection comes off, the relationship enters the exploratory affective
exchange. Where both parties present their personalities to each other. After a common ground is
formed and stories are exchange, inside jokes begin to occur. Affective exchange occurs, which
is where both parties use spontaneous communication to relate with personal stories.
This theory has its tradition roots to Socio-Psychological, but extends the meaning to
apply to the communication that occurs between the two parties. Since this phenomenon occurs

between two individuals it would be considered an interpersonal communication theory. Like all
theories there are drawbacks; since this is so broad it becomes difficult to test the theory. Others
disagree that the stages of the theory are linear which cannot be applied to real relationships.
Every time someone hears or remembers Shreks analogy of the onion they will associate
it with SPT. Another analogy is a tree. The outward appearance is calloused and barky, which is
used for protection from the elements. We as humans can have an outward personality as the
bark of the tree. Rough, but for a reason. After someone starts cutting they will begin to go
deeper in the tree, till the point of getting to the center. The center for us is the most vulnerable
part of our personality, it is when we feel most comfortable with the person.
Each tree has rings to signify the growth of the tree. Our rings are our personality; which
is developed as we progress throughout or lives. It can also be interpretive as the stages of social
penetration with the center being stable exchange. Once you cut something it is very hard for it
to grow over that cut. That is symbolic of our interactions between people because it is hard to
recover after the relationship is dissolved.
In conclusion; there is a process of how people develop their communication and
relationship between each other. It starts off in the orientation phase and progresses to complete
communication interaction with the stable exchange. At any point within the stages the
conversation could stop and dissolve. SPT is like a tree with its many rings and its hard-outward
appearance. Only those with the sharpest axes can pierce the bark and progress the relationship
forward.

Reference:
West, Richard L and Lynn H Turner. Introducing Communication Theory. 1st ed. Print.