Predicted Outcome Value Theory Assignment
To determine what motivates us when we communicate in initial interactions, Michael Sun nafrank (1986) developed predicted outcome value (POV) theory. Unlike the other theories introduced in this section, POV theory states that our communication is not guided by a de sire to decrease uncertainty. Instead, when we first meet someone, we are motivated by a d esire to maximize relationship outcomes. Thus, predicted outcome value is our evaluation, based on an initial meeting, of whether a future relationship with another person will likely be either positive or negative. Did they say things that made us laugh? Did we find them ph ysically attractive? Did they ask us questions about us that made it seem as if they were list ening to what we were saying? Similarly, your conversation partner is making that evaluati on of you based on how you communicated. Individuals strive to form relationships with others so that they can achieve positive relatio nal outcomes (Sunnafrank, 1986). If both communicators perceive that the interaction was positive, they likely will believe that future interactions will also be positive and will both tr y to spend more time together. For example, the individual who wrote the “missed connecti ons” ad presented in the beginning of the chapter believed their brief first meeting was posi tive and held the possibility of a rewarding future relationship. However, when one or both partners perceive an interaction as negative, they are likely to have a less positive POV abo ut the relationship and will not pursue a future relationship. Today, this assessment could b e as quick as swiping left or right on a dating app.
When we consider the larger implications on relationship development, how does research about POV compare with research about uncertainty? In three studies, Sunnafrank found e vidence that supported POV theory (Sunnafrank, 1988, 1990; Sunnafrank, & Ramirez, 2004 ). In these studies, an individual’s POV about his or her partner was positively related to the amount of verbal communication, nonverbal affiliation, intimacy, liking, attraction, perceiv ed similarity, and information seeking. In essence, the more individuals communicated wit h and experienced intimacy, liking, attraction, and similarity with their conversation partne rs, the greater their POV regarding a future relationship with that individual. Further, when uncertainty and POV in initial interactions are directly compared to one another, research has consistently found that POV is a more important motivator than uncertainty and is mor e strongly related to how the individuals interact with one another (Grove & Werkman, 199
1; Sunnafrank, 1990). Sunnafrank’s POV theory has also been extended to understanding m ore established relationships. In such relationships, unexpected events could cause one or b oth individuals to reevaluate the value of their relationship (Ramirez, Sunnafrank, & Goei, 2 010). This also applies in online contexts. One research study (Young, Kelsey, & Lancaster, 2011) found that the frequency and immediacy of e- mails between college students and their professors can contribute to the students’ POV of developing a student–teacher relationship.
7.4 Self-Disclosure and Relationship Development
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Self- disclosure can help us build rapport with others and help us learn more about ourselves.
Have you had the experience of meeting someone for the first time and having him or her t ell you personal information that you did not want to hear? Have you opened up to someon e and shared your thoughts or feelings but then regretted it later? The intentional act of sha ring private and personal aspects of oneself with other people is called self- disclosure (Wheeless, 1978). According to this definition, basic information about you, such as your name, would not be classified as self-disclosure; rather, self- disclosure refers to information that is private and would likely not be revealed by anyone other than you. Self-disclosure from this perspective is thus an intentional choice. Self- disclosure is important for building rapport with other people, but it also helps you learn m
ore about yourself. If you develop a relationship with someone, you gradually disclose mor e information about yourself. Identifying, understanding, and then verbalizing your ideas, b eliefs, and experiences are processes that enable you to better explore and analyze yourself , which helps you to question or reinforce your self- concept. As you disclose more to others, you may become aware of previously untapped iss ues or feelings. For example, imagine that you are becoming friends with someone at work, and you are both building that friendship by sharing things about yourself. You tell your wo rk friend that you have a full- time job, are in school, are raising a daughter, and take care of your aging father. Your work friend replies, “Wow. That is a lot to take on. I really admire you.” When you hear that, you realize that you do juggle many important tasks and that you are stronger than you had giv en yourself credit for. In this way, self-disclosure can be a form of the looking- glass self we described in Chapter 2. It can also help you to shape, form, and alter your self- concept, self-image, and self-esteem.
Although self- disclosure can have many benefits, such as finding out that you have something in common with another person, it is also risky. Sharing information about yourself makes you vulnera ble. When others know you well, they have information that they might use against you in s ome way, such as by telling others, and you may fear being taken advantage of (Farber, 200 6). You might also want to protect yourself from criticism or rejection. For example, how mi ght you react if a new romantic partner disclosed that she had cheated on one of her previo us partners? Would you be less likely to trust her, or would you want to hear more about th e situation to determine what happened? Would you be willing to listen to your partner’s e xplanations about why it happened and how it will not happen in your relationship? You m ay never know unless you test that assumption and disclose information and are also recep tive to others when they disclose risky information about themselves to you.
Social Penetration Theory
In 1973, social psychologists Irwin Altman and Dalmas Taylor proposed a theory of self- disclosure called social penetration theory. In this theory, Altman and Taylor compared the disclosure process to peeling back an onion layer by layer. When you first meet someone, y ou usually discuss obvious or nonthreatening subjects, thus remaining only at the surface o r outer layer of the onion. At this peripheral level, you might compliment someone about th ings you can easily observe, such as a person’s clothing, or discuss mundane topics, such as the weather. Your conversation at this level usually involves learning more than you tell by asking questions to reduce uncertainty about the other person and to find common ground. As a relationship progresses, people reveal more details about themselves. This informatio n represents the middle layers of the onion. You might ask about the other person’s family, interests, social activities, and other such topics. Continued progression of the relationship will depend, in part, on the responses you get because this type of disclosure enables you to pinpoint commonalities that can help you determine if you want to get to know this person more.
Self- disclosure allows you to reduce uncertainty about each other and to predict how costly or r ewarding future interactions with the other person will be. If this sounds familiar, you are c orrect— Sunnafrank’s (1988, 1990) POV theory was based on the broad concepts of social penetrati on. Once you mutually determine that you want to establish some type of relationship, discl osure gradually continues to more personal topics (Svennivig, 2000). As this happens, acco rding to social penetration theory, more layers of the onion are peeled back and revealed. T he central layers of the onion represent the most personal or private details about you, suc h as your values, fears, and feelings, and are revealed only to a few close relational partners . As such, they are the most difficult to get to and most likely to make us cry— much like peeling an actual onion down to the center will likely do!
Self-Disclosure in Person
The vast majority of self-disclosure occurs in face-to- face contexts, though early social media research determined that college student Facebook users were more likely to self- disclose on the site than in general (Christofides, Muise, & Desmarais, 2009), and a more re cent review of online self- disclosure research found a consistent relationship between online and off-line self- disclosure patterns (Desjarlais, Gilmour, Sinclair, Howell, & West, 2015). Whether face-to- face or online, there are two important things to consider when disclosing about yourself: r eciprocity and appropriateness.
Sidney Jourard (1971) emphasized that disclosure must be reciprocal; both parties must di sclose the same degree of information. Face-to-face self- disclosure is most beneficial for a relationship when it is equally reciprocated between bot h partners. So, when you self- disclose to another person, in a sense, you are placing a burden on that person to share info rmation with you to approximately the same degree. If you continue to share personal infor mation with someone and he or she does not reciprocate, you may decide to disclose less or not at all. If the relationship is ongoing, conflict usually results if one person feels that he or she is doing all the giving and getting little in return. On the other hand, if you are not inter ested in developing a relationship with the person who is disclosing to you, the shared info rmation can make you uncomfortable because you now know things about this person you did not care to know, and the other person has an unspoken assumption that you will divul ge personal information as well. Individuals often rely on nonverbal listening feedback cues such as nodding, touch, and eye contact to ensure that they have not shared more than they should have. You can use this k nowledge about nonverbal communication cues to determine whether the information you are sharing is at approximately the same level of what your partner is sharing.
In- person disclosures must also be appropriate. Think back to the appropriateness dimension of communication competence, which indicates that individuals should strive to follow rule s and consider the context or situation surrounding the interaction. For example, sharing in timate details about your relationships or discussing personal issues in professional situati ons such as the classroom or the workplace is inappropriate in most circumstances. Disclos ure that is excessive and inappropriate to the context is referred to as overdisclosure. To de termine what is appropriate, you must consider the communication context, which will imp act your decisions about appropriateness. Consider the following contextual factors:
- target: the person with whom you are sharing and the nature of your relationship with the m
- situation: the time and place of the disclosure • amount: how much information you disclose • depth: the level of detail you disclose • duration: how long you talk (Brockbank & McGill, 2006)
Let’s look at an example to consider how each factor works in an interpersonal communicat ion situation. Perhaps you have started dating someone you really like, and you want to dis close to them that you have a chronic health condition that will affect your relationship if y ou two choose to pursue it. Your condition isn’t serious, but it does need to be managed, an d it will impact elements of your day-to- day interactions with a partner. So, you decide you are ready to disclose this information.
- Your target is the person you are dating, and you have determined that the nature of your r elationship is to the point where you feel comfortable sharing this personal information wit h them.
- You choose a situation—a night at your house where you have made dinner— that is conducive to this type of disclosure because it is private, quiet, and gives you both ti me to discuss the information for as long as you like.
- You strike a balance between amount and depth by sharing the diagnosis of your condition, s ome background about it, how it affects you, and how it will affect your relationship, should it blossom. You try not to share too much or too little so as to give your new romantic part ner a chance to process the information and determine how to proceed.
- This links to the last factor, duration— you will talk first, but you want to give your partner a chance to respond soon into the inter action and not overwhelm him or her with information. As with all communication, as you can see by this example, self- disclosure must be appropriate to the context in which the communication occurs.
Technology offers additional opportunities for self- disclosure. On the Internet, for example, the information we share with others can be either exclusive, via personal messages, or nonexclusive, via postings on message boards.
Opportunities for self- disclosure have expanded exponentially with the growth of the Internet, emerging technolo gies, and social media. Individuals have been able to disclose about themselves online for th e past two decades, and this outlet for self-disclosure is unique and thus distinct from face- to-face self-disclosure in two important ways.
First, self- disclosing on social media can be done either exclusively (that is, directed to only the receiv er by private message) or nonexclusively (by posting to many individuals in their networks via public comments, status updates, or wall postings). For example, one study found that Facebook users utilize various methods of nonexclusive disclosure to update their friend ne tworks on major life events (Bevan et al., 2015). When the life events are negative, such as a divorce or death in the family, Facebook users prefer to share that information directly vi a status updates or photo captions. But when the events are positive— an engagement or receiving a promotion— users disclose more indirectly by posting a photo with no caption or changing information i n the “About” section of their profile without explanation (Bevan et al., 2015). It is likely tha
t Facebook users do this to avoid “boasting” online about their positive news in a way that c ould be seen as self- aggrandizing and to seek social support from their networks about their negative informati on (Bevan et al., 2015).
The extent to which a self- discloser provides information to a receiver exclusively is referred to as disclosure personal ism (Bazarova, 2012). For example, exclusive disclosures about both positive and negative t opics on Facebook were viewed as more intimate and personal than nonexclusive disclosur es (Bazarova, 2012). Further, when disclosures were exclusive to a particular individual rat her than shared with one’s broader network, there were also greater perceptions of relatio nship intimacy and liking of the discloser (Bazarova, 2012). Such research indicates that sh aring intimate information with large groups of social network users is an efficient way to d isclose but can sometimes have unintended results depending on how the message and the relationship are perceived. For example, McEwan (2013) notes that sharing information ab out yourself on social media can be less of an interpersonal interaction and more of a “mass personal” broadcast (that is, a blend of mass and interpersonal communication) that preve nts true reciprocity from occurring. The honesty of self-disclosure is the second factor that differs in online contexts. In face-to- face disclosures, honest and intentional self- disclosure is positively related to relationship intimacy; but in certain online contexts, ther e is no such relationship. For example, researchers found that honest self- disclosure on Facebook is not positively related to relationship intimacy (Park, Jin, & Jin, 20 11). As we discussed in Chapter 2, on social networking sites such as Facebook, users are ea sily able to create and change their self- images. Being honest and conscious of what is disclosed may not be as important in this co ntext as it is in face-to- face disclosures. However, Desjarlais and colleagues’ (2015) review of online self- disclosure research focused on adolescents and young adults and found that this form of di sclosure is generally viewed as relationally beneficial by this group, as it is related to increa sed trust, commitment, closeness, and understanding in multiple cultures. As social media g rows in size and influence, mediated self- disclosure may becoming more accepted as part of our culture as well.
Though sharing information about oneself to a group of people via mediated channels has a certain appeal, it is important to remember that this form of self- disclosure is less private and more permanent than face-to- face disclosures. If the disclosure is made publicly, potential employers view this informati on and form a negative impression of you. As we discussed in Chapter 6, exercise caution w hen you post about yourself online, and verify which other users can access the information .
Self-Disclosure and Health
Jourard first argued in 1971 that self-disclosure is linked to individual well- being. Specifically, those who actively avoid disclosing to others increase their vulnerability
to stress, which then increases the likelihood of compromising personal physical health (Jo urard, 1971). Based on Jourard’s idea, psychologist James Pennebaker (1989) formally theo rized that disclosure and mental and physical health are interrelated. His theory of inhibitio n and confrontation posits that there is a clear relationship between disclosure and health: Namely, keeping important psychological experiences to yourself, or inhibition, can increas e stress levels. That stress can lead to the development of other health issues. Conversely, when you disclose, as a form of confrontation, your personal experiences— when you decrease inhibition— you lower your stress levels. This decrease in stress can benefit overall health. Research that tests the theory of inhibition and confrontation, as well as research that gene rally links self- disclosure with health, has overwhelmingly found evidence of a positive association betwe en the sharing of private information about oneself and individual health and well- being (Tardy, 2000). For example, in one study that tested the theory of inhibition and conf rontation, students who wrote about their traumatic experiences visited the university heal th center less frequently than did those who did not disclose via writing (Pennebaker, 1989 ). In addition, individuals who were less emotionally expressive were more likely to experie nce health issues such as headaches, asthma, heart disease complications, and even early ca ncer death (Pennebaker, 1993). In terms of interpersonal communication, engaging in expr essive writing in the manner suggested by Pennebaker’s (1989) theory has been found to h elp individuals caring for spouses diagnosed with cancer become more person- centered in their communication (Harvey, Manusov, & Sanders, 2019) and assist lesbian, ga y, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) hate speech victims to psychologically a nd physiologically cope with a hate speech incident (Crowley, 2014). Overall, research sho ws that self- disclosure can be good for the body and the soul and has at least six positive consequences, as illustrated in Table 7.1 (Farber, 2006).
Table 7.1: The positive consequences of self-disclosure