This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 15 table of contents.


Are there ways to influence the impression one makes upon other people, besides making oneself beautiful? One way to encourage other people to like you is to disclose some personal information about yourself. Politicians who feature their families in political advertising use this technique, called self-disclosure. A little bit of self-disclosure often helps to create a favorable impression. A lot of self-disclosure, however, can make other people feel uncomfortable.

What is self-disclosure? How much is ideal? How can it be risky?

In a sense, self-disclosure invites intimacy or closeness. Like a pat on the shoulder by a friend, it can be a welcome sign of trust and friendship. However, if there is too much self-disclosure, it is like somebody leaning all over unwelcome amount of personal contact.

Derlega (1984) described self-disclosure as a risky business. When we share personal information with someone, we risk indifference, if the other person does not care about it, or rejection, if the person is turned off by the information, or betrayal if the person uses the information against us. Nevertheless, most people use self-disclosure effectively, and in moderation, and in most cases it works to a person's advantage. It creates feelings of friendliness and sympathy.

What principle of reciprocity seems to work well with self-disclosure?

Self-disclosure between two people who are getting to know each other is governed by an unspoken principle of reciprocity. The rule is that nobody discloses too much before the other person reciprocates (does the same thing). Ideally, one person discloses a small amount of personal information, then the other person does the same thing, and gradually a relationship is built up. As long as the pace is moderate, people continue to like each other, as they share more and more information about their lives.

Davis (1977) found that if two people took turns disclosing small amounts of personal information to each other, they grew more comfortable with each other and confided more as the exercise went on. The two seemed to match their rate of disclosure. If one slowed down, so did the other. However, if one pushed too hard or disclosed too much before the other responded, the other person was likely to pull back, becoming less friendly and less open.

Rubin (1975) found that strangers in an airport reacted poorly to a student who disclosed too much, too soon, then pressured them for personal information. The strangers felt rushed and tended to pull back from the interaction. Even within marriages, a reciprocity principle seems to operate. Komarovsky (1962) reported that some couples disclose a lot to each other, others not so much, and they seem to match each other's levels of disclosure.

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