The Formation of Social Relationships A Longitudinal Study of Social Penetration



    Corresponding author
    1. C. Arthur Van Lear, Jr. (Ph.D., University of Utah, 1985) is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. This article is a part of my dissertation at the University of Utah, 1985. I would like to thank the members of my doctoral committee: Dennis Alexander, James Anderson, Norman Elliot, Leonard Haas, and especially B. Aubrey Fisher (chair). I would also like to thank my colleagues Kathryn Dindia, Edward Mabry, Robert McPhee, and Kathy Kellerman for their comments, advice, and assistance.
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Requests for reprints should be sent to C. Arthur VanLear, Jr., Assistant Professor, Department of Communication, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, P. O. Box 413, Milwaukee, WI 53201.


This study investigated three levels of self-disclosure (public, semiprivate, private-personal) in the social penetration process. The study addressed three questions. (1) What is the nature of changes in the three levels of disclosure over time? (2) Is self-disclosure reciprocated at the three levels of intimacy? (3) Does reciprocity vary over time and, if so, how does it vary? Same-sex zero-history dyads participated in a six-week longitudinal study. The half-hour taped conversations were submitted to interaction analysis. Polynomial trend analyses and Markov analyses were used to analyze the data. The results showed: (1) a convex quadratic trend for private-personal disclosures over time; (2) reciprocity at the same level of intimacy as an interactional norm (especially at the beginning and end of the relationship); (3) a cyclical fluctuation of reciprocal interacts over time. These results were interpreted as elaborating the social penetration process.