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Can Telling Someone Your Secrets Make Them Like You?

Self-disclosure in relationship development

 Just Dance/Shutterstock
Source: Just Dance/Shutterstock

Quite simply, what you reveal to someone during conversation and what they are prepared to reveal back to you is referred to as mutual self-disclosure.

Back in 1958, Sidney Jourard and Paul Lasakow defined self-disclosure as making previously unknown information available so that it becomes shared with others (Jourard & Lasakow, 1958). When people interact in groups, disclosure of information can enhance the bonds and rapport between the group members. Furthermore, disclosure of information within a group can serve to define group membership and perhaps strengthen the identity of the group.

One of the early ideas of how self-disclosure works was proposed by psychologists Irwin Altman and Dalmas Taylor. They suggested that as social relationships progress, people gradually move from disclosing only superficial information with each other, to eventually disclosing more personal and then maybe intimate information. When interacting with someone new for the first time, we exchange only very superficial information, with the breadth or number of topics covered being fairly limited. Gradually, however, as a relationship progresses, the number of superficial topics talked about increases and we begin to disclose more personal and then finally intimate information about ourselves. Disclosure thought of in this way, forms a kind of wedge shape, which Altman and Taylor referred to as the ‘wedge of social penetration’ (Altman & Taylor, 1973).

Disclosure and attraction

As noted above, disclosure fosters closeness and therefore plays a big part in the development of personal and also romantic relationships (Derlega, Winstead, Wong & Greenspan, 1987). Furthermore, disclosure is an important indicator of the type of relationships we develop, with highly personal information being disclosed more often in romantic relationships (Green, Derlega & Mathews, 2006).

In 1994, Nancy Collins and Lynn Miller reviewed the link between disclosure and liking and found the following:

  • Those people who use more intimate disclosure tend to be liked more than people who disclose information at less intimate levels.
  • We disclose more information to those people who we initially like.
  • We are liked more by people if we disclose to them.

Obviously, there may be variation according to factors such as the information being disclosed and the gender of the people engaging in the disclosure, although this does provide insight into the relationship between disclosure between people and liking which may be particularly applicable in online interaction and online dating (Collins and Miller, 1994).

What people disclose in online dating

In 2006, Nicole Ellison, Rebecca Heino, and Jennifer Gibbs set out to explore how online daters manipulate the presentation of themselves online in order to achieve the goal of finding a romantic partner. They interviewed people currently using a dating site about their experiences of using this and found that users went for a balance between presenting being honest and portraying an impression of themselves which is more idealized, when outlining their dating profile. This idealized portrayal of themselves may have been due to the asynchronous communication environment and the reduction in nonverbal cues available in such an environment (Ellison, Heino, & Gibbs, 2006).

In an additional study, the same authors examined self-disclosure in online dating relationships, looking at relational goals, self-disclosure and perceived success in online dating. They found support for the social penetration model of disclosure in this environment also and also suggested that disclosure was dependent on peoples’ anticipated face-to-face interaction in the future. Interestingly, they found that honesty had a negative effect on perceived online dating success. As well as disclosure, they also found that online dating experience to be a good predictor of online dating success (Gibbs, Ellinson, & Heino, 2006).

In online personal ads posted by lesbian and gay people seeking sexual or romantic encounters (face-to-face or online), it is usual for users to disclose basic statistics regarding their descriptions and for this to be done early on in the encounter. Furthermore, it is usual for such ads to feature details such as age height and weight and that these details are disclosed earlier on in an interaction, and for these pieces of information to be disclosed at the same time and in a single communication (Gudelunas, 2005).

Overall then, mutual self-disclosure is important in relationship development and in online dating progression. There do seem to be certain ways in which we can manipulate self-disclosure in order to increase our chances of dating and furthering our relationship development.


Altman, I., & Taylor, D. A. (1973). Social penetration: The development of interpersonal relationships. Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Collins, N., & Miller, L. (1994). Self-disclosure and liking: a meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 116(3), 457-75.

Derlega, V., Winstead, B., Wong, P., & Greenspan, M. (1987). Self-disclosure and relationship development: An attributional analysis. In M. E. Roloff & G. R. Miller (Eds.), Interpersonal processes: New directions in communication research (pp. 172-187). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Ellison, N., Heino, R., & Gibbs, J. (2006) ‘Managing Impressions Online: Self-Presentation Processes in the Online Dating Environment.’ Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 11(2), 415–441.

Gibbs, J. L., Ellinson, N. B., & Heino, R. (2006) ‘Self-Presentation in Online Personals - The Role of Anticipated Future Interaction, Self-Disclosure, and Perceived Success in Internet Dating’ Communication Research, 33(2) 152-177.

Greene, K., Derlega,V. L.,& Mathews, A. (2006). Self-disclosure in personal relationships. In A.Vangelisti & D. Perlman (Eds.), Cambridge handbook of personal relationships. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, pp. 1268-1328.

Gudelunas, D. (2005) ‘Online Personal Ads.’ Journal of Homosexuality 49(1), 1–33.

Jourard S. M. & Lasakow, P. (1958). Some factors in self-disclosure. Journal of Abnormal Psychology. 56(1), 91-98.

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