Disclosure or concern: A second look at liking for the norm breaker1


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    The authors wish to thank Kathie Barnett, Mollie Guion, Margaret McCauley, Carol Reed, and Cindy Sowell, who served as raters for the manipulations. This article is based upon a paper presented at a symposium entitled “Self-Disclosure and Responsivity: An Attributional Analysis” at the 86th Convention of the American Psychological Association, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, August 1978. The research was supported in part by a grant to the second author from the University Research Institute.

Requests for reprints should be addresed to Richard L. Archer, Department of Psychology, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas 78712.


Chaikin and Derlega (1974a and b) maintain that social norms dictate reciprocal exchange of intimacy in dyadic interactions. A strong version of this normative hypothesis is that when personal information about self is revealed, only personal information in return from the recipient can satisfy the norm. But a more flexible view of the reciprocity norm might allow the hearer to acknowledge the intimate information received and express an interest or concern with its content in lieu of self-disclosure in return. An experiment was conducted in which perceptions of an individual responding to an initial disclosure were examined. Observer subjects read a brief description of a first encounter between two women. During the meeting one of the women made either an intimate or a nonintimate disclosure (low versus high initial intimacy). The other woman responded in one of five ways: with an intimate disclosure (high-return disclosure), a nonintimate disclosure (low-return disclosure), acknowledgment and sympathy (concern), concern-plus-high-return disclosure, or concern-plus-low-return disclosure. Regardless of initial intimacy, the most favorable impressions of the respondent were formed in the concern condition. When the respondent made a disclosure of her own, the interaction predicted by the normative hypothesis was replicated. In addition, perceptions of the intimacy of the initial discloser and the respondent were affected by each other: a contrast effect. The possibilities are discussed that a disclosure reciprocity norm may not apply to conversations and that there is a need for care in generalizing reciprocity results to settings in which respondents have other options than disclosure.