The Bus Rider Phenomenon and Its Generalizability:
A Study of Self-Disclosure in Student-Stranger
Versus College Roommate Dyads
LEE REIFEL DRAG
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE COUNCIL OF
THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL
FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
FOR ALL THE DIFFERENT LIVES AND MOODS
OF OUR MARRIAGE
Every dissertation is the product not only of arduous work, but also,
as in this case, of lengthy and fruitful conversations with many people.
Throughout my graduate career, I have wrestled with many of the ideas
and materials on self-disclosure presented in this work. Often they
appeared totally unmanageable, like an unruly group of children. I
owe thanks first of all to Dr. Sidney M. Jourard, Chairman of the
supervisory committee, who has been so helpful in suggesting the necessary
discipline and structure for the successful completion of this study.
More importantly, I would like to remember Dr. Jourard for being both
teacher and friend. From him, I learned to look forward in anticipation,
to enjoy rather than turn away from the unexpected, and to look back
with interest and not pain.
Similarly, I would like to acknowledge the help, instruction and
support given by Dr. Carolyn Hirsch, Dr. Jacquelin R. Goldman and Dr.
Franz R. Epting in the conceptualization of the research and the establish-
ment of an experimental design. Their methodological acumen in the process
of sampling, data analysis and inference strengthened my instruments
and provided wisdom to guide their use. Moreover, readers courageous,
they all had recommendations for a meaningful format.
My appreciation is also extended to Dr. Elmer C. Bock, Dr. Robert
C. Ziller and Dr. Harry A. Grater, Jr., for their aid and participation
as members of the final committee.
To my good friend, Miss Jaqueline Irwin, go special thanks for
risking and disclosing herself as the "Stranger" and for enduring the
long hours of data collection, while at the same time giving up a
I am also indebted to Mrs. Carolyn Moore, Director of Women's
Housing, Emory University, and Mrs. Dana Greene, Graduate Dorm Advisor.
Through their efforts, my reception in the campus dormitory was cordial
and my access to students was expedited.
I am, of course, indebted to the students who volunteered so
much of their time as subjects and who thereby made this work possible.
Their friendly acceptance was all I could have asked.
Finally, special gratitude goes to my husband, Richard, who had to
put up with my frequent absence in the evenings, and when I was home,
with a sometimes preoccupied wife. His willingness to share the sadness,
laughter and frustration during bouts of colicky writing gave this work
added meaning. Throughout, he proved to be a gentle one to love.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS ....................................... ........ iii
LIST OF TABLES..................................... ................ viii
LIST OF FIGURES............................................. ....... x
I. /INTRODUCTION............................................ 1
A. Overview of the Literature............... ........ 1
B. Overview of the Present Experiment:
Situational Determinants of On-going
Self-Disclosure...................... ........ .... 3
II. HISTORY OF SELF-DISCLOSURE RESEARCH ..................... 8
A. The Nature of Self-Disclosure ....................... 8
1. The Value of Openness............................ 8
2. Self-Disclosure, Personality and
Mental Health ................................. 28
3. Self-Disclosure and Reciprocity Both
In and Outside of Therapy........................ 52
4. Subject Matter and Target Person for
5. Verbal Self-Disclosure Versus Other Modes
of Expression............... .... ......... ........ 86
6. Self-Disclosure and the Affective
Quality of Relationships......................... 99
7. Status Characteristics Related to -
Self-Disclosure............. .................... 124
8. Phenomenological Evaluations, Interpreting
New Experiences and Self-Disclosure............
9. Self-Disclosure and Situational
B. Methodology, Measurement and Prediction
in Self-Disclosure Research. .......................
1. The Problem of Prediction in General.........
2. Jourard's Self-Disclosure Questionnaire .......
3. Questionnaires Using Thurstone
4. Situational Measures: Interviewer-
5. An Alternative.................................
III. RATIONALE ..................................... .........
A. The Purpose of the Present Investigation...........
B. Major Kypotheses -- Situational Variables ..........
1. Type of Dyad Formed (The
Bus Rider Phenomenon)...........................
2. Order of Dyad Interactions
(Generalizability of the Bus Rider
3. Quality of Affect in Different
4. Predicting Self-Disclosing Behavior
from Questionnaire Claims......................
METHOD................ .. .. ...........................
RESULTS................ ..... .. .................
APPENDICES.... .... ..................................... .... 241
A. Consent Form for Psychological Research............... 242
B. Self-Disclosure Items Cwith Worthy's Scale
Values and Q-Values) Utilized in Selection of
Subjects and in the Game of Invitations...... ........... 243
C. Instructions to Subjects for Using the Self-
Disclosure Questionnaire.............................. 245
D, Game of Invitations................................... 250
E. Personal Behavior Questionnaire........................ 253
F. Raw Data............................................... 256
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHK............................................ 287
LIST OF TABLES
1. Research Findings Related to Self-Disclosure,
Personality and Mental Health.......................... 31
2. Research Related to Self-Disclosure and the
Concept of Reciprocity................................ 53
3. Research Related to Self-Disclosure x Target Person.... 72
4. Research Related to Self-Disclosure x Subject Matter... 78
5. Research on Self-Disclosure and Other Modes
of Communication....................................... 92
6. Research on Self-Disclosure and the Affective
Quality of Relationships.............................. 105
7. Research on Self-Disclosure and Status
8. Research on Phenomenal Judgments and
9. Research on Situational Factors and
Self-Disclosure........................ ................ 146
10. Research on the Validity of Self-Disclosure
Questionnaires............................ ......... 155
11. Distribution for Groups Matched on the Basis
of Age ................................................ 188
12. Distribution for Groups Matched on the Basis
of College Academic Grade Level........................ 188
13. Distribution for Groups Matched on the Basis
of Indicated Past Self-Disclosure to College Roomate... 189
14. Distribution for Groups Matched on Indicated
Future Willingness to Disclose to College Roomate....... 189
15. Distribution for Groups Matched on Indicated
Future Willingness to Disclose to a Same-Sex Stranger.. 190
16. Summary of the Analysis of Variance for the Effects
of Type of Dyad and Order of Interaction on-
17, Means of Self-Disclosure Scores by
Experimental Conditions............................... 204
18. Summary of the Analysis of Variance for the
Effects of Type of Dyad, Order of Interaction
and Type of Rating on Degree of Positive Affect
Experienced by Subjects During the Game of
19. Summary of Total Group Scores on Personal
Behavior Questionnaire Following Games-of
Invitations by Interaction Effects..................... 207
20, Pearson Product-Moment Correlation Coefficients
Between Subjects' Selection Scores and Total
Individual Self-Disclosure Scores in Game of
Invitations for Subjects in the Two Treatment
Combinations: Total Number of Items Checked.......... 210
21. Pearson Product-Moment Correlation Coefficients
Between Selection Scores and Total Individual
Self-Disclosure Scores in Game of Invitations
for Subjects in the Two Treatment Combinations:
Highest Rank Level Checked............................ 210
LIST OF FIGURES
1. Main Effects.of Type of Dyad on Mean Self-
Disclosure Exhibited by 32 Female Subjects.
During the Game of Invitations ..................... 216
2. Simple Effects of Type of Dyad on Mean
Self-Disclosure Exhibited by Two Treatment Groups..... 217
3. Simple Effects of Order of Interaction
on Mean Self-Disclosure Exhibited -by -- -
Two Treatment Groups.................................. 217
4. Mean Scores of 32 Female Subjects on the
Personal Behavior Questionnaire: Type of Rating-...... 228
5. Mean Scores of 32 Female Subjects on the
Personal Behavior Questionnaire: Type of Dyad............ 229
6. A Comparison of Mean Self-Disclosure to Two
Target Persons by Treatment Groups: Questionnaire
vs. Game of Invitations ..........................-..... 234
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the
Graduate Council of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment
of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
THE BUS RIDER PHENOMENON AND ITS GENERALIZABILITY:
A STUDY OF SELF-DISCLOSURE IN STUDENT-STRANGER
VERSUS COLLEGE ROOMMATE DYADS
Lee Reifel Drag
Chairman: Dr. Sidney M. Jourard
Major Department: Psychology
This dissertation provided a comprehensive review of self-disclosure
literature and an experimental study of situational variables related to
the disclosure process. Four areas of interest were investigated: the
generalizability of research findings beyond the laboratory situation;
the role played by the recipient of disclosure; the affective qualities
accompanying disclosure in different situations; and the predictive
ability of disclosure questionnaires for actual behavior.
On-going disclosure was examined in two types of relationships:
(1) disclosure between relative strangers who had a commitment to continue
the relationship; and (2) disclosure between absolute strangers who had
no commitment to continue the interaction. It was hypothesized that Type
of Dyad CStranger-confederate of E vs. college Roommates of 3-days
acquaintance) would affect Ss' level of disclosure and that Ss would
disclose more to a Stranger (Bus Rider Phenomenon) than to a Roommate.
However, it was believed that, given an interaction with a "therapeutic"
Stranger, Ss' disclosing behavior would generalize to Roommate relation-
To test these hypotheses, two groups of female college Roommates
(N=8 dyads/group ) were matched on the basis of age, grade level, past
and future disclosure to Roommate and future disclosure to a Stranger.
The experimental treatment consisted of Order of Interaction with a
female Stranger i.e., stranger-roommate vs. roommate-stranger).
It was further hypothesized that while positive feelings accompany
disclosure, they are relative to the target relationship. Type of Dyad
and Order of Interaction were examined for their effects on Ss' scores
on a questionnaire measuring positive feelings toward self and other.
The final hypothesis was that disclosure questionnaires would not predict
WSi actual disclosure in new situations as effectively as they would in
Experimental procedure: Ss played a Game of Invitations. The Game
consisted of 26 disclosure questions ranked by Ss for degree of intimacy
x ease of discussion x target person (Roommate and Stranger). Ss' in-
dividual rankings remained fixed during experimental interactions with
the target persons. Dyad partners traded items by ranks. If offers to
trade were accepted, partners then revealed item numbers at their ranks
and proceeded to disclose information. Ss' scores by Type of Dyad and
Order of Interaction consisted of the total number of items disclosed.
A Bus Rider Phenomenon was found to exist in laboratory self-
disclosure research. Ss disclosed significantly more to the Stranger
than to a Roommate with whom they would have continued interactions.
However, disclosure to a "therapeutic" Stranger enhanced disclosure to
a Roommate. Ss paired first with the Stranger disclosed significantly
more to Roommates than Ss in the roommate-stranger condition. The
latter group disclosed significantly less information to Roommates than
to the Stranger, while Ss paired first with the Stranger disclosed at an
equally high level to both targets.
It was also found that Ss attributed significantly more positive
feelings to their partners (esteem for other) than to themselves (self-
esteem). Ss further exhibited a larger discrepancy between their self-
and other-ratings of positive feelings with the Stranger than with a
Roommate. In Roommate dyads, Ss believed their experience was equal to
that of a partner and that they possessed similar personality traits.
Self-esteem increased, while esteem for other decreased from that re-
ported with the Stranger. In contrast, Ss tended to overrate the
Stranger and underrate themselves.
As hypothesized, questionnaire claims about willingness to disclose
did not effectively predict Ss' actual behavior with a Stranger, although
Roommate behavior was predicted.
In general, the objectives of this doctoral dissertation were two-
fold. An effort was made to (1) provide a codified, comprehensive
review of the self-disclosure literature, and (2) continue the second
phase of research (Lee R. Drag, 1968) concerning situational-interpersonal
determinants of self-disclosure.
Overview of the Literature (Chapter II)
During the past ten years, the number of relevant and near-relevant
papers on self-disclosure has become staggering. However, to this
writer's knowledge, no comprehensive review of the literature is presently
in existence.* This section of the dissertation is intended to provide
a summary acquaintance, a feel, if you will, for various topic areas to
which self-disclosure is applicable. It should not be expected to give
the detailed knowledge acquired by an extensive review of each study
individually. As an aid to the reader, the review has been so organized
that each topic area could hopefully be studied by itself, without
reference to the rest. The fact that each area could be used independ-
ently has made it necessary to repeat some of the self-disclosure
materials under different sub-headings. The review is presented in such
Since the first draft of this work, Jourard (1971) has compiled
an excellent review of both his work, and that of his students, at the
University of Florida.
a way that those already familiar with the literature may skip over
this chapter and proceed directly to the experimental study (Chapter III).
While self-disclosure has been used as both a dependent, and an
independent variable, the research tends to focus primarily upon two kinds
(1) What are the effects of self-disclosure? and
(2) What is related to what within the process
As the body of literature continues to grow, many apparent inconsistencies
in experimental findings are noted. While a small number of phenomena
or relationships have been demonstrated over and over again, other
relationships remain as hints, unexplored or equivocal. This review
attempts to document both the former and the latter. Hopefully, it will
aid other investigators in moving away from the known in the direction
of either more refined investigations of clear relationships in self-
disclosure, or concentration on those which remain unclear.
I agree with Riecken and Homans (1954) who assume that there is no
such thing as contradictory research findings, but rather that such
findings must have been reached in different circumstances. Inconsist-
encies in research data may be due to many factors. One factor is the
problem of an adequate methodology and measurement framework for self-
disclosure research. Innumerable devices have been used to infer
changes in self-disclosure and/or to manipulate conditions of self-
disclosure. Also, many studies seem to deal with varying status
characteristics of the E and S, such as age and sex. Frequently, these
are not carefully delineated for the reader. Only one or two studies
have used the double-blind approach to research recommended by Rosenthal
Still other studies do not recognize the effect of environmental
factors, i.e., are context blind. Many studies yielding opposite results
appear to mix behavior at different levels of salience to the S, or,
are measuring behavior mediated by different variables, i.e., the
purposes and projects furthered by the S's disclosures. An example of
this would be trying to equate the findings of studies looking at therapy
behavior vs. laboratory behavior vs. on-going behavior with significant
others in the S's life space. Overall, one must make a very real
distinction between results based on questionnaires, and those based on
direct experimental manipulation of on-going behavior.
In scanning the research reviewed herein, the reader is warned of
my bias toward discussing and making suggestions within a psychothera-
peutic framework. Hopefully, however, the reader will be able to
determine what implications are conveyed when research findings are
generalized to his own area of interest.
Overview of the Present Experiment: Situational
Determinants of On-going Self-Disclosure (Chapter III)
The experimental study itself was designed to explore four major
areas of interest:
(1) The possibility of a "bus rider" phenomenon in
(2) The generalizability of a "bus rider" phenomenon
if it did exist;
(3) The relationship between situational determinants
of self-disclosure and the degree of positive affect
experienced by individuals; and
(4) The predictive value of questionnaires for actual
interests are an outgrowth of findings from previous.research
(Lee R. Drag, 1968). As noted in the first phase of research, generali-
zations about self-disclosure are limited by the fact that:
First, most previous investigations in this area
have focused on self-disclosure, outside of on-going
situations, and without full consideration of self-
disclosure as a function of the situational context
of the experiment itself. Second, in traditional
approaches to the study of self-disclosare, only one
class of data collection is generally used, i.e.,
an interviewer-interviewee relationship, or questionnaires
(Lee R. Drag, 1968, pp. 120-121).
In dealing more specifically with these issues, Lee Drag (1968)
and R.MN Drag (1968) found that the psychological experiment, itself,
provided a potentially reactive situational context which could inhibit
or encourage self-disclosure. Their research also called into question:
(a) the more frequent methods used to develop self-
(b) the ability of questionnaires to predict behavior
in on-going situations;
(c) the assumption that individuals always exhibit
greater activity at less intimate levels of
disclosure and that it takes a log period of time
to reach a deeply personal level of disclosure; and
(d) the generalizability of research findings beyond
the experimental setting itself, i.e., the experiment
is a source of positive error demonstrating a "bus
rider phenomenon," or a Hawthorn effect.
In the present experiment, an effort was made to develop, and
structure, an experimental situation that would be ecologically and
socially similar to the general population situation of female college
students. The study was taken away from the laboratory and into an
environment similar to that where self-disclosure would normally occur,
and with the same apparent consequences. The procedure for this was
to study on-going self-disclosure between female college roommate dyads,
as contrasted with their disclosing behavior when each roommate was
paired, individually, with a female stranger she did not expect to see
again. The study was conducted in the girls' natural habitat, i.e.,
the lounge area of the girls' college dorm.
In investigating the bus rider phenomenon, it was hypothesized
that the Type of Dyad formed (Stranger vs. Roomate) would affect the
level of self-disclosure exhibited, i.e., commitment to an on-going daily
relationship lessens the probability that immediate, highly personal
disclosure will occur. It was also hypothesized that the Order of
Interaction (Stranger first, Roomate second, or Roomate first, Stranger
second) would affect the process of self-disclosure. It was predicted
that a self-disclosing interaction with a particular type of Stranger
(i.e., a Stranger who is attractive, warm, likable and self-disclosing)
would have an enhancing effect on disclosure to a Roomate. It was also
Hypothesized that prior self-disclosure questionnaires would not predict,
as accurately, actual behavior in Stranger dyads as they would in
Roomate dyads. It was further hypothesized that the situational variables
(Type and Order of dyadic interactions) would affect the degree of
positive feelings Ss stated they had experienced during the experiment.
The method used to check these hypotheses consisted of a Game
of Invitations, which was a modification of that used in previous
research (Lee R. Drag, 1968). The Game consisted of 26 self-disclosure
questions. Prior to the experimental treatments, each S initially
ranked the items from 1 to 26 for degree of intimacy x ease of discussion
for two target persons, Roomate and same-sex Stranger during a first
meeting. The two individual rankings for each S then remained fixed
for the S during experimental treatments. Following the ranking
procedures, Ss indicated which topics they would be willing to discuss
with their Roomates and with a Stranger.
On the basis of selection scores, two matched groups of Roomate
dyads were formed. In the experimental situation, Ss in each group
played the Game of Invitations twice, once individually with a Stranger,
and once with their Roomates. The only experimental difference between
the two groups was in the order of interaction.
In playing the Game, dyad partners traded items by ranks. Each
girl had the option to accept or reject her partner's offer to trade a
given rank. The Stranger, however, always accepted offers. If an
offer was accepted, dyad partners told each other their individual
item numbers at the rank traded; each then proceeded to disclose on
her own item. The Game continued until the dyad had disclosed on all
26 rank level items, or had reached an impasse on ranks to trade.
The Games yielded two individual scores for each S: the total
number of items disclosed to Roomate and the total number of items
disclosed to the Stranger. These scores were used to test the hypotheses
of an order effect, a type of dyad effect, and an order x type of dyad
effect. Subjects' scores during the two Games were also correlated with
pre-experimental self-disclosure scores to test the hypothesis about
the predictive ability of questionnaires.
Following each Game of Invitations, dyad partners (whether two
Roomates, or a Roomate and a Stranger) filled out a Personal Behavior
Questionnaire. This consisted of 41 feeling states that might have
been experienced during the preceding Game. The task of each partner
was to check each adjective along a 6-point scale as a self-description
and then as a description of how she believed the other felt. The sum
rating total across the 41 feelings provided an index of Ss' feelings
about the interaction. The two scores were labeled "degree of positive
self-esteem" and "degree of positive esteem for partner." The Personal
Behavior Questionnaire scores were used to test the hypothesis about
the effects of Type and Order of dyadic interactions on degree of
positive affect:experienced during the experiment.
The present experiment also refined two major methodological
procedures used in master's thesis research (Lee R. Drag, 1968). One
such change was moving from a two-category, nomothetic method of
selecting self-disclosure items (high or low intimacy scaled items
as defined by general consensus) to an ordinal, idiographic method.
Self-disclosure items were selected across a range of pre-scaled
intimacy values (Worthy, 1968). In contrast to accepted procedures,
however, items were intentionally selected for their high t value. The
items were given to Ss to rank individually for intimacy x ease of
discussion for two target persons.
The other major change was in using a double-blind approach to
the gathering of data. The girl selected as the "Stranger" for the
Game interactions with Roomates was not only naive as to the specific
experimental hypotheses, but was also unfamiliar with the research on
self-disclosure. She also had status characteristics closer to those
of Ss than did the E (i.e., age, marital status, and not identified
as a "psychologist," but rather as "another college volunteer").
The Nature of Self-Disclosure
The Value of Openness
Man's need to be confirmed.--William James was ione of the first
psychologists to focus upon man's need to be validated by -other men. In
his Principles of Psychology, James wrote:
No more fiendish punishment could be devised...
than that one should be turned loose in society
and remain absolutely unnoticed by all the members
thereof. If no one turned around when we entered,
answered when we spoke, or minded what we did, but
if every person we met 'cut us dead,' and acted
as if we were non-existing things, a kimd of rage
and impotent despair would ere long well up in
us,from which the cruelest bodily tort-ares would
be a relief (1890, pp. 293-294).
During the subsequent years, philosophers and psychotherapists have
taken up this theme and enlarged upon it.* Seventy-five years later,
Man has a fundamental craving for secure, close,
communicative relationships with others...and
feels very much cut off, alone and unfulfilled
when such relationships do not exist (1965, -p. 21).
One of the basic problems of man is to locate himself in the world. He
asks himself: "Who am I? How well am I doing?" and "What am I in relation
*See the writings of Buber (1957, 1958); Tillich (1952); Homey
(1950); Fromm (1947, 1955); Rogers (1951, 1957); Jourard (1964); and
Mowrer (1964) for amplification.
to other people?" Anxiety, or cognitive strain, according to Sarbin
(1964), comes from man's search for answers to these "impelling questions."
It is not hate, but indifference to, or from others, or alienation, or
loneliness that is the extreme negative of human relationships and the
most difficult to bear (Landsman, 1961). It is believed that man,
in order to become aware of himself and to confirm his existence, needs
to disclose his unique being to another and have this received, acknowl-
edged and spontaneously responded to, Karl Jaspers (1965) puts it thus:
We can only become transparently ourselves through
a lifetime of loving communication in the course
of a destiny shared with others...(p.26). Every-
where communication is possible which cannot be
scientifically or medically contrived and in which
self-fulfillment comes about through a revelation
of the person (p. 43).
It is through self-disclosure that man becomes more aware of and grasps
his being and as yet unrealized potential. The means by which this
comes about is illustrated by Maslow (1965) in his discussion of peak
experiences. For instance, he found that peak experiences are more
common than he once suspected. He states:
Practically everybody reports peak experiences
if approached and questioed...and encouraged in
the right way. Also I have learned that just
talking about it, as I'm doing now seems to
release from the depths all sorts of secret
memories of peaks never revealed to anyone before,
not even to oneself perhaps (p. 46).
This need for contact through communication does not seem restricted
to any age grouping, but is part of man's humanness. Hayakawa (1965),
in writing about communication with very young children, states that
we frequently overlook the tremendous value of the acknowledgement of
messages. He believes even a three-year-old child needs to receive the
Not "I agree with you" or "disagree" or "That's
a wonderful idea or a silly idea," but just the
acknowledgement "I know exactly what you've
said. It goes on record. You said that." The
acknowledgement of message is a very important
form of feedback....It says in effect, "I know
you're around. I know what you're thinking. I
acknowledge your presence" (pp. 102-103).
Viewed in this light, self-disclosure seems to be a valuable, rewarding
process which aids self-integration, growth and optimum functioning
(Jourard, 1961 f).
The cult of honesty.--However, the nature and value of openness
between people should be examined carefully. This seems necessary
because of a new cult which has appeared on the American scene, i.e.
"institutionalized" honesty and openness among people. Through a
proliferation of encounter, sensitivity, self-actualization and T-
groups, people are being urged to "take off their masks" (Stoller, 1968).
Diverse groups, such as ministerial, nursing, business, marital and
even "social" groups, are being run through a variety of disclosing
experiences. Theoretically, the goal is to produce a state of "joy"
in openness (Schutz, 1967). Perls (1969) apprises us of this movement,
in his introduction to Gestalt Therapy Verbatim. He states:
It took us a long time to debunk the whole
Freudian crap, and now we are entering a new
and more dangerous phase. We are entering the
phase of the turner-onners: turn on to instant
cure, instant joy, instant sensory awareness.
We are entering the phase of the quacks and the con-men,
who think if you get some break-through, you are
cured--disregarding any growth requirements, disregarding
any of the real potential, the inborn genius in
all of you...(p. 1).
Oddly enough, what frequently occurs in the Human Potential
Movement is that open communication becomes a program, rather than a
process. The credo transmitted is that the healthiest, most desirable
relations are those where one's inner-most feelings and emotions are
laid bare. Individuals are exhorted to always be open, direct and honest
in dealing with each other. In an effort to avoid the deadening effect
of conventional relationships, the new idiom focuses on being "super-
sincere" and "playing the game of truth." Healthy adjustment is
measured, therefore, by the extent to which an individual is willing
to be publicly introspective.
How did this cult develop and what are the consequences of full
acceptance of its philosophy? It seems to have originated as an ex-
pression of discontent over certain aspects of Western life. Within
psychology, this discontent was expressed most vocally by the "enlightened
humanists." These psychologists protested against Watsonian and
Freudian insistence upon a thorough-going determinism. They called for
a re-emphasis on man the experiencer* They were willing to grant that
man's feeling that he is not a robot may well be an autistic self-
perception. However, they believed man needs his sense of freedom. Any-
one who does live his life as if he were a machine is very likely to
be subjected to therapeutic treatment aimed at modifying this view.
As it happened, many of the leaders of this "third revolution"
were psychologists who fused the roles of scientist and practitioner.
Consequently, much of the research,dealing with a science of man
conceived as a human person, has grown out of psychotherapy. Rogers
(1961) has been able to affirm his acceptance of the scientific posture
and his conviction of its untenability:
See Farson's Science and Human Affairs (1965) and Bugental's
Challenges of Humanistic Psychology (1967) for a more complete discussion
of this movement.
I prefer to live with what seems to me to be
a genuine paradox...that in our pursuit of science,
we are fools if we do not assume that everything
that occurs is a portion of a cause-and-effect
sequence, and that nothing occurs outside of that.
But I also feel that if we adopt that point of view
in our living as human beings, in our confrontation
with life, then that is death (p.575).
As the humanistic movement has progressed, however, another
development has taken place. Barker (1965) believes that within psy-
chology a dangerously un-normal, bi-polarization is occurring. On
the one hand are the overly tight, neat, operational, orderly sorts
of psychologists,, and on the other a growing number of overly loose,
intuitive, romantic, even anti-science and anti-intellectual types.
Humanism, with its here and now approach, and frequent emphasis on
affective, rather than cognitive factors, implies to some that there
is no possibility of finding answers in scientific psychology, and they
have turned from it altogether.
Some attribute this development to a peculiarity of Western thought.
Hayakawa. (1965.) and Osgood (1965) believe that we are unaccustomed
to distinguishing between levels of abstraction. We therefore tend to
confuse the general with the particular. From our two-valued orientation,
we make polarized, opposing dogmatic slogans out of otherwise useful
generalizations. Those who reject "scientific" psychology as valueless
in meeting man's needs, fail to realize there has never been a scientific
method, but rather a scientific attitude. In turning away from
attempts to develop a human science, the result is a "careless type of
thinking and emotion-filled and uncritical appeal to humanism that
necessarily degenerates into inhumanity" (Colaizzi, no date, p.4).
It is this new philosophy in the Human Potential 'Movement, especially
as it is conveyed to the general public through encounter groups that
causes ethical concern. From Gestalt psychology, comes one tenet:
the whole is more than, and different from, the sum of the parts. You
don't necessarily put in a penny's worth of open and honest disclosure,
here, and get out good and loving and self-actualized behavior from
the other person, there, like a chewing gum machine.The ethics of
encounter groups is discussed by Goldberg (1970) in his review of John
Mann's book, Encounter: A Weekend with Intimate Strangers. Others, such
as Rogers (1967), Parloff (1970), Lubin and Eddy (1970) and Dreyfus and
Kremenlier (1970), add their voice to the concern expressed therein.
Ethical concerns revolve around the following points:
(1) Frequently group leaders have no prior information
about group participants (goals, strengths,limita-
tions, expectations and previous group experiences);
(2) They "induce treatments" without assessing what
brought the person to the group, his motivations,
what he wants and expects for himself through his
(3) Frequently group participants are informed that they
can try out new behavior without being hurt in
the process, a promise the leader has no moral or
ethical right to make;
(4) The objective of such experiences seems to be the
expression of emotions, but not to learn what
their emotion is all about, nor to attain a sense
of mastery over their feelings; and
(5) New behavior is frequently commanded, rather than
Rogers (1967) in a follow-up study of 481 participants in encounter
groups, two to twelve weeks later, found that only a small percentage
of participants appeared to find their experience damaging or negative.
Rogers believes, however, that we should be concerned if such experiences
are potentially damaging to anyone.
From a valuing orientation, there is the danger that unless an
individual can understand processes which alter his behavior, he can
become something of an automaton, responsive simply and directly to
the pressures of a group. Dreyfus and Kremenlier (1970) point out
that the techniques frequently used in encounter groups can produce
psychological casualties and open the person to new disasters, as well
as growth. They believe the "techniques" can be lethal weapons when
used by self-proclaimed facilitators or inexperienced and untrained
practitioners. It is their opinion that frequently these "counselors"
are "hung up" on problems of intimacy themselves; consequently, they
initiate the techniques of more qualified group leaders without the
faintest idea of the underlying rationale, and without the skill to
deal with a variety of possible outcomes.
As the theory and techniques underlying "encounter therapies" are
disseminated in the culture, self-disclosure can be used as a technique
to make the individual less free, rather than more free. Techniques
can be used to encourage inauthenticity and alienation, as well as
authentic living. Dreyfus and Kremenlier (1970) state:
People can learn a new language behind which to
hide new modes of inauthentic behavior. They can
learn to sound like genuine human beings and to look
like authenticating self-actualizers; but these
overt manifestations merely serve to cover the
underlying fear of closeness, warmth and intimacy.
Group behavior can become a new form of phoniness;
it looks and sound real, but lacks genuineness,
depth and commitment (p. 281).
Techniques can serve to give the appearance of participation or
responsiveness to human needs while at the same time covering up
underlying exclusion. One can imagine a situation where workers are
offered, under a Human Relations program, participation and a voice in
managerial decision-making, while actually, management (following "leader-
ship" or "sensitivity training") is expected to lead the decision-
making sessions to those conclusions favored by management. Or, students
may be encouraged to enter into dialogue and to have "authentic"
encounters with faculty or administration, while the information disclosed
may be used to weed out the "radicals" or"rabble-rousers."
The continued barrage of information, encouraging the use of self-
disclosure as a means of breaking down conventional "distancing"
techniques, may well become a technique for inducing a new type of
conformity. While self-disclosure, real self-being, or "transparency"
seems related to personal growth in therapy (Peres, 1947; Truax, 1961;
Seeman, 1949, 1950; Strupp, 1955 a, 1955 b, 1955c, 1960, 1963), we
are less clear about how it operates in everyday life. Patients, as
well as participants in sensitivity training groups, are not informed
as to this gap in the current state of psychological knowledge. Because
of this educational failure, "lay" people have difficulty in developing
ways of judging and trying to modify what they are receiving so it can
become an appropriate part of their life style.
The problem in making a statement about the value of self-
disclosure.--Hence, many do seem to grasp the term "openness" as a magic
word making one healthy, wealthy and wise automatically. The Human
Potential Movement, especially, is adopting a fad- or game-like quality.
The effects of this form of naivete were delightfully illustrated in
the movie spoof on encounter groups, Bob and Carol, Ted and Alice. This
movie highlighted what can occur when therapy self-disclosure techniques,
used to promote self-discovery, are practiced indiscriminately in every-
There is even a game called "Group Therapy," now on the market,
for use when cocktail conversations becoming boring. A portion of the
instructions for playing this game are as follows:
GROUP THERAPY. Is it really a game? Yes. But
GROUP THERAPY is for people who want to do more than
just play games. For people who want to open up.
Get in touch. Let go. Feel Free.
Therapist cards start it happening. Like: Hold
each member of the group in a way which shows how you
feel about him. Like: Pick a way in which you are
phony and exaggerate it. Like: You are advertising
yourself as a lover. What does the ad say?
Were you "With It?" Or did you "Cop out?"
Everyone judges. Everyone is judged. And judgments tell
you where you're at...on the board. Play GROUP THERAPY.
And you can stop playing games.
Following each player's acting out a given instruction, the rest of
the group judges his behavior, whether he was "with it" or "copped out."
In playing the Game, the first person to reach the home goal "Free"
supposedly is the winner. In advising players how to judge whether the
person "copped out" or not, the instructions go on to state:
You will undoubtedly want to take a number of factors
into account in determining whether a player has fulfilled
the instruction: DID HE COP OUT? Was he acting? Was
he impersonal? Was he glib? Did he try to make a joke
of what he was doing? Was he trying to sustain a
public image of himself? Did he respond to the instruction
incompletely, trying to get by with as little as possible?
Was he trying to hide something? Did he seem afraid to
appear petty, ordinary, naive, weak, uncool, unmas-
culine (or unfeminine): Was he afraid to be vulnerable?
WAS HE WITH IT? Did he try to be honest, open, sincere,
aware, giving: FREE?
It was my opinion that the various assignments listed on Game cards
were excellent therapeutic approaches, but it seemed rather sad to seem
them used as "parlor" games. On the basis of therapy experiences,
many of the assignments could become highly emotionally toned if an
individual really became involved and could be devastating in certain
situations. Dreyfus and Kremenlier (1970) point out:
The methods seem innocuous, reminiscent of games
played as a child. In and of themselves the
games are fun. However, effectively applied,
people can become stirred up, frightened, turned on,
filled with feelings and needs that are difficult for
them to integrate in life (p. 279).
It is encouraging to note that lay people are beginning to write
about their experiences with intimacy, giving both the positive and
negative aspects (e.g., Jane Howard's book, Please Touch, 1970). Simi-
larly, Colaizzi has issued a warning about the dangers of not making
discrimination about the appropriateness of exchanging intimacy. He
I think by now you can see the point I'm trying
to make. But let me formulate it precisely:
without dismissing the real dangers of de-
humanization that accompany science and technology,
should the solution be one which fosters an opposite
but equal danger? Is the solution really an all-
pervasive, flooding, constantly present humanism?
Would this sort of humanism be much of a gain? If
humanism is the opposite of depersonalization, would
we actually be more humane if we endeavor to implement
warm and loving and personal relationships at all
times, in all situations, and under all circumstances?
How long could this be indulged in before we pre-
cipitated total social chaos? Think, for example,
what would happen if every driver engaged the tollman
in an "authentic encounter" each time he crossed
a toll-gate. What would happen if we inquired of
the telephone operator how she "really experiences life?"
each time we placed a long-distance phone call ( no
date, p. 2)?
If we assume that self-disclosure is not a form of "instant salvation,"
what factors should be considered in assessing its value?
The first factor deals with defining precisely what we are re-
ferring to. As Dreyfus (1967) points out, openness can mean many
things to many people. It can refer to (1) an atmosphere, (2) recep-
tivity, or (3) self-revelation. He believes misunderstandings arise
when openness is equated with "true confessions," or with a condition
elicited by artificial techniques. Dreyfus also feels that openness
does not exist if the integrity of any one of the participants is
challenged, doubted, or otherwise impeached. Kesey's One Flew Over the
Cuckoo's Nest (1962) demonstrates how Dreyfus' conceptions of openness
can be violated. In this novel, parallels are drawn between group
therapy conducted in an authoritarian, punitive environment and a
"bunch of chickens at a peckin' party." In this atmosphere, the primary
goal was drawing blood from the discloser, following his admissions,-
rather than confirming him. Perhaps even more dangerous is the fact
that self-disclosure, used as a method of forcing others to expose
themselves, can become a form of psychological "raping."
We also need to distinguish whether or not the disclosure is
authentic, or inauthentic. Inauthentic disclosure would seem to exist
when the underlying structure of a relationship is unresponsive, while
a symbolic front of responsiveness is maintained. This is similar
to the double-bind hypothesis or where the illusion that "we are one,
big, happy family" is promoted. Authentic disclosure would seem to
occur when the appearances and the underlying structure of the relation-
ship are both responsive to basic human needs. One person can thus
disclose authentically, and be met with inauthenticity. Perhaps the
most alienating situational condition would be if a person authentically
discloses, and then finds that both the appearances and structure of
the relationship are unresponsive to him.
A second factor in assessing the value of self-disclosure is trying
to understand how self-disclosure actually relates to mental health.
It would seem that confirmation of aspects of the self through disclosure
does not increase one's present level of self-acceptance; it validates
it. Argyris (1967) puts it thus:
Confirmation of self is akin to validation that
one has $1,000 in the bank. The act does not
increase the money; it makes one more sure of
precisely how much money he has in the bank (p. 158).
This assumption may help to explain a finding of Truax and
Carkhuff (1965) that self-exploration operates differently with different
types of "mental" patients. These researchers, while generally supporting
the notion of patient transparency, or self-disclosure, as being im-
portant to positive therapeutic outcomes, have some question as to
generalizability. Findings of two group psychotherapy studies of
hospitalized mental patients supported the notion that the more patients
engaged in self-disclosure, the greater was the degree of positive
personality change. However, in a third group, composed of institutional-
ized juvenile delinquents, they found that positive personality change
was inversely related to the amount of self-disclosure. They concluded
If this finding holds up in other analyses, it
suggests that while self-exploration, self-
disclosure or transparency is helpful in producing
positive changes in the mentally ill person whose
disturbance is internal, the same transparency or
self-exploration might be of no value or even
harmful to the socially ill person whose disturbance
is primarily external. In the one case the patient
perhaps lacks a knowledge of self, whereas in the
second case, the delinquent perhaps lacks a
knowledge and understanding of his social world (p. 7).
One might hypothesize that, in the one instance, the person lacks
communication with the self and needs validation of self. In the other
case, the person lacks adequate communication with the world and needs
validation of self in relation to world.
A third factor deals with whether or not the individual should make
discrimination in disclosing based on the nature of the relationship.
In dealing with the problem of discrimination, Colaizzi, speaking in
a more general vein, states:
Where is the practice of humanism applicable?
...First of all, we cannot and should not attempt
to practice it constantly. For example, if a
total stranger approached me existentiallyy," I
personally would be repulsed by him. The simple
truth is, I don't want to love everyone, for the
simple reason that love cannot be directed
indiscriminately to everyone. Love is directed
to special people only, even so-called existential
love. Moreover, the endeavor to love everyone
is self-defeating because such an endeavor reduces love
to the common and banal, whereas in fact love is, to
say the least, unusual (no date, p. 8).
I suggest that negative consequences can arise from self-disclosure
if there is a failure in discriminating the differences between relation-
ships. This has been a persistent problem in marathon, T-group or
other highly intensive, but relatively brief therapeutic encounters.
Schien and Bennis (1965, p. 320) suggest that "the learning produced
may be personally meaningful, but difficult to integrate back home."
They also hypothesize, "The longer the laboratory, the greater the
likelihood that what is learned will be out of line with back home
norms and values, hence the less the likelihood of its being relationally
refrozen (p. 315)."
Campbell and Dunnette (1968) point out that T-groups remain an
artificial situation, where verbal expressions are frequently accepted
without real concern for behavioral consequences. They go on to discuss
the conditions unique to T-groups, or labs, which promote a safe at-
mosphere for disclosure. Some of these conditions are:
(a) meets relatively long time in isolated environment;
(b) heterogeneous group will not meet again and there-
fore is not a threatening audience;
(c) continual reinforcement by the staff that the
lab culture is supportive, nonevaluative, non-
threatening and therefore different from the world
back home; and
(d) the attitude on the part of some participants
that the T-group is something of a temporary "game"
to be played with relative abandon because it is not
In such an atmosphere, strong emotional expressions (e.g., declarations
of love, sexual attraction, hostility), seldom are connected to physical
Such conditions do not prevail, however, in the everyday world
of living, or at least are not as frequent. Actions are expected, as
a matter of course, to follow from one's speech. If one operates
according to T-group behavior with those who have not had similar
experiences, it might lead to involvement in situations where there is
a discrepancy between behavior the individual has led others to expect
and that which he is about to perform.
In everyday contacts where individuals may not feel as close to
one another as what they say might indicate, the indiscriminate use
of self-disclosure might lead to invalidation. How the receiver reacts
to a bit of self-disclosure is a function of how he got involved in the
first place. If there is a lack of mutual involvement, self-disclosure
may lead to annoyance. The self-disclosure demands a response which
the receiver may find impossible to fulfill. Or, it might lead to a
distinctly uncomfortable feeling, as if one had been kissed against his
The fact that people do make discrimination about .relationships
is well-documented in the literature (see Targets x Topic in Section 4).
Drag (1968) found in her study that Ss who had previously reached a
high level of disclosure with a "transparent" E exhibited a slight
decrease in willingness to disclose when subsequently paired with
another S (peer). Several possible explanations for this finding were
offered, surrounding S's evaluations of the situation.
The first possibility is that...as information
exchange increases, esteem lessens, and moae
realistic appraisal of situations occur. One may wonder
whether the decrease was...a form of "undoing"
on the part of Ss. Perhaps, because they had
reached such a high level of personal intimacy
with the E in a short time, they felt they had
over-extended themselves and had become vulnerable.
The second possibility may be that with their
interactions with E as a frame of reference, other
Ss may have seemed less open, or willing to handle
their disclosures. Some of the Ss' post-experimental
statements about the difference between the "doctor-
patient" relationship with the E, and the "maturity"
and age difference between E and Ss. suggest that this
may have been a factor (p. 90).
In making discrimination, a fourth factor must be taken into con-
sideration. One needs to look at the projects served by the disclosure.
In this regard, Hood and Back (1971) found the salience of self-
disclosure to an experimental relationship was an important factor in
volunteering for psychological experiments in females, but not in males.
Bennis, et al. (1964) point out that people form relationships to meet
different goals and that these goals may change from time to time. Among
these goals might be:
(1) to satisfy the need for love, warmth, approval
and relatedness such as occurs in marriage or with
a close friend;
(2) to gain a realistic and orderly view of oneself
and/or the world such as a scientific convention
where scholars meet to exchange ideas and research
(3) to change oneself or the other such as becoming
involved in a therapy or sensitivity group; or
(4) to pool resources to achieve a common goal such
as a business partnership or social action group.
The nature and extent of self-disclosure might realistically be expected
to vary based on the type of relationship formed and the goals for the
relationship. For instance, in studying the four goals listed above, if
one's goal is to satisfy the need for love through marriage, then
one would need to be willing to disclose a great deal to one's spouse
(Levinger 1964; Levinger and Senn, 1967). If one is involved in
attaining goal 2 above, then personal disclosure might not be as
important as disclosure of one's activities. Mellinger (1956), however,
found that scientists in a research organization tended to conceal
their attitudes about a particular issue when communicating with persons
in whom they lacked trust.
Self-disclosure in a therapy group in order to attain goal 3 would
be appropriate. Underwood (1965) found that T-group participants did
make more changes than controls during a group experience. However,
these changes were seen as detrimental to job effectiveness by colleagues
of those who participated in the group.
If one's project is to attain goal 4, self-disclosure might actually
be an interference. Stogdill (1959) has suggested that "the effort
that is devoted to the development of integration might be conceived as
a subtraction from the efforts that are devoted to productivity "
(p. 269). Similarly, Fiedler (1953) has investigated whether under
certain conditions the relation between liking and efficient task
performance is important. Fiedler points out that "quite in contrast
to therapeutic and social relations, we find that psychological closeness
and warmth in key members of small groups seems to be a detriment to
effective team work..." under conditions where teams "want to get a
job done." It seems that some externally imposed requirements set
limits on the relationship and type of self-disclosure. At work,
dialogue revolves around a job, and not a broad range of subjects. One
can deal with people as co-workers, but not necessarily as friends,
because if they do not get the work done, more than likely they will
The fifth factor that needs to be mentioned in assessing the value
of self-disclosure is that self-disclosure involves an element of risk;
the individual may experience negative or painful consequences as a
result of his disclosures. Jourard (1961 f) states:
But self-disclosure sometimes yields consequences
of a painful nature, which is likely one reason why
many dread it so, therapists as much as patients
...The French existentialist, Marcel, referred in
this connection to a conflict between beingg' and
"having." To be something means to lose what you
have. But to cling to possessions and people may
mean loss of being, and ultimately this is a more
serious loss (p. 31).
Self-disclosure may entail not only rejection by others, but
the individual's rejection of his own previous way of defining himself.
Continuing this line of thought, Karl Jaspers states about therapy:
What does the patient want to achieve when he goes to
a psychiatrist? What does the doctor see as his
treatment-goal? 'Health' in some undefined sense. But
for one person 'health' means an unthinking, optimistic,
steady equilibrium through life, for another it means
an awareness of God's constant presence and a feeling of
peace and confidence, trust in the world and the
future. While a third person believes himself healthy
when all the unhappiness of his life, the activities which
he dislikes, all that is wrong in his situation is
covered up by deceptive ideals and fictious explanations.
And perhaps there is no small number of those whose
health and happiness is best enhanced by the treatment Dr.
Relling preferred in Ibsen's The Wild Duck: 'I take
care', he says, 'to preserve his life-lie', and talking
about the 'fever for justification' he remarks sar-
castically, 'If you take away the average person's
life-lie, you rob him of his happiness too." However
much truthfulness is desirable in therapy -- a view we
support unreservedly -- it is all the same prejudicial
to imagine that untruth makes people ill. There are
people whose vitality thrives on untruthfulness both
towards themselves and the world at large (1965, p. 23).
Perhaps it is awareness of this that has led so many to focus on im-
proving the quality of the psychotherapeutic relationship in order to
encourage the person to come to grips with his "life-lie." Unless we
seek to make therapy just one more Procrustean bed, the individual
does experience pain as he begins to confront himself by disclosing
his present mode of existence. This fact led Heller (1969) to emphasize:
The better the co-existential relation between
patient and therapist, the easier it will be to
stand the shock of the sudden realization of
full self-awareness which is much more than just
insight; one might even call it true birth trauma,
a birth trauma at a time when it really hurts (p.261).
I became aware of this in working with a young man who traditionally
would have been labelled a "catatonic schizophrenic." He had had several
unpleasant hospitalization experiences, and one jail experience. In
the process of discovering himself, he stated, about becoming aware of
I was almost hospitalized for alcohol and "trash
speed" but almost killed myself purposefully in a
car wreck and scared myself into some sense of
responsibility to my self...I always felt torn
inside of myself and on the edge of exploding...
I played cops and robbers for two years. I shot,
mainlined acid at least every three days, smoking
grass, often an ounce a day. My associations were
primarily other dealers, I lost all interest in violence,
sex, and alcohol. I spent most of my time in my room
smoking and reading and dropping acid or other halucinogens.
In becoming emeshed in memories, I also became trapped
in "the child." I could do all of the physical things
an adult could do, but I was as a child -- terrified to
be outside of my room. I learned to scare myself and enjoy
the intoxication of fear. I would lay on the floor
trembling in terror and generated in my mind till I
felt my spirit leave my body and fly in fear from its
...I learned I could terrorize others by my appearance.
People referred to me as a demon....They put me in a
cell, a small metal room with a hole in the floor. I was
damned to this for ever. The light in the ceiling was
always burning and my naked body was cold on the metal
floor. A small slit in the door only revealed the gro-
tesque gray walls and the deformed humanoids that in-
habited the place.....Eternal damnation...I couldn't
kill myself because I was dead but I could turn my self
off, turn my self off like the light I could never
reach. I lay on the floor and immersed my mind in black-
ness. The keepers thought I was garbage and took me out.
I screamed and fought when they touched me, they threw
me back into the cage. I drew the blackness around me
again. ;This time they took me out. I could
feel them lifting me, my eyes weren't seeing, this was
the end. They tried to dress me, but I fought.
They put me in a straight jacket and I drew the
shrouds about me again. They put me in a car and
carried me to a huge building. A building full of hideous
gnomes and twisted semi-human people. They handcuffed
my wrists to a rottening table and tied my ankles to
the other corners. I withdrew for years, eons of black-
...The people in white took me in a small room and stuck
a needle in my arm...my keepers were gone, they locked
me in a room where I would be safe and tied me to a
bed. After one violent attempt to escape, I saw the
necessity of playing the games. The sooner I could
act civilized the sooner I would get out. I hated
talking to the doctors, but was polite. They were
fascinated with my craziness. In a couple of months I
was transferred to another hospital. In the first I had
been given Thorazine. Now they experimented with
giving me Melaril. I played the ruse. I knew what I
needed to do and generally how to do it. I didn't want
any drugs, especially the doctors'.
...The hardest thing to learn was loving and sharing.
These are still awsome unreachable goals to surmount.
I'm just really forgiving myself and I know this must
be done before I can give love -- so share instead my
guilt -- my dying past. I do feel responsible for myself
and to the world about me to be of use in what I
can...but it's mine to decide. I refused to accept
professional outside help except when it was forced on me
because I could never accept any man's opinion to be
more than just another man's opinion, even my own....
What happened allowed me a better chance to enter my own
reality....The biggest thing I've learned is to accept
fully and make use of my own nature and capabilities,
This young man demonstrated how man needs a relationship where
he can be himself without holding back or "putting on" or being forced
into a mold. Buber points out this deep I-Thou experience is not one
which can be maintained, but needs to occur from time to time if man is
not to feel cheated.
On a speculative level, it seems reasonable to hypothesize that
whether or not openness, confrontation and self-disclosure are valuable
and rewarding depends (1) upon how much the person will lose if he
does or does not disclose, (2) upon the interpersonal atmosphere,
(3) the goals sought, and (4) the role played by the receiver, as well
as the communicator, of disclosure. Perhaps some of the confusion,
and maybe the greatest danger, is due to over-generalizing from therapy
research or laboratory experimentation. We still know very little
about the conditions in the natural environment under which people
are willing to be themselves and disclose honestly and spontaneously.
We have done very little as far as naturalistic observation. Farson
(1965)explains our failure as being:
We have not been people-watchers as biologists
were bird- and bug-watchers. We have moved too
quickly into the laboratory and looked only at
special populations of people under special
circumstances; we have thought we could derive
generalizations about human behavior without
first gaining the kind of understanding that
could come only from years of looking at how
normal people behave in normal circumstances,
performing normal tasks (p. 3).
For the most part, most of our knowledge about self-disclosure
has come from that population labelled "therapy patient" or from that
narrow range labelled "college student, age 17-25." There are few cross-
sectional studies, and no longitudinal ones.
Self-Disclosure, Personality and Mental Health
In psychology, there is no agreed upon definition of what we mean
by mental health, or what personality correlates accompany that elusive
state. In fact, difficulties in defining mental health, adjustment and
normality have come to occupy a prominent position in the controversy
about human behavior, These issues are reviewed in detail in Marie
Jahoda's (1958) book on current concepts of mental health and in the
writings of Barron (1968), Friedes (1960), Grinker (1967), Jourard
(1963), Kaplan (1967), Klein (1960),London and Rosenhaun (1968), Maslow
(1962), Mathews (1960), Sabsin (1967), and Tindall (1955). Maslow's
position (1961) in defining psychological health places stress on open-
ness to development and experience. He sees psychological illness as
the stunting or crippling of human capacity for change, as "human
diminution"; the opposite of this is self-actualization which is defined as:
...a development of personality which frees the person
from the deficiency problems of youth, and from the
neurotic (or infantile, or fantasy, or unnecessary,
or "unreal") problems of life, so that he is able to
face, endure and grapple with the "real" problems
of life (the intrinsically and ultimately human
problems, the unavoidable, the "existential"
problems to which there is no perfect solution) (1962, p.109).
Using the concept of self-actualization as a definition of mental
health, McClain and Andrews (1969) investigated the personality correlates
of peak experiences who Maslow believes tend toward greater self-
actualization than others. McClain and Andrews found that peak ex-
periencers tended to be more open-minded, more flexible, in application
of their beliefs, more intelligent, tender-minded, forthright, ex-
perimenting, self-sufficient, assertive, expedient, imaginative, placid
and free from apprehension, and freer from tension.
In a similar vein, Gibb (1965) states about "healthy" people:
The growing, healthy person is able both to take in
and to give out data freely; that is, be is able to
participate in an exchange of feelings, attitudes and
information with other people, and is comfortable
with feelings and emotions. He is able to look at
the world of objective reality and live with its possible
discomforts....The self-accepting person who perceives
a minimum of threat in the outer world has a minimal
need to defend himself. He is able to take in a wide
range of data from other people with a minimum of
protective and defensive coloration...-The accepting
person is also able to be open and spontaneous in his
output of data. He feels little necessity to alter his
language and behavior in order to maintain a public image
-- to create an acceptable facade -- for the person who
likes himself is confident that others will like him and
hence has very little need for "public relations" and
similar forms of data control and distortion.
Apart from his specific relation to his job, the growing
person is in the process of knowing himself, exploring
activities that are satisfying to him, and working
towards, or creating, goals that are meaningful and
significant to him....Since he is motivated more by
self-fulfillment than by such external motivations as
feelings of duty, loyalty, responsibility, and the
like, he is in the process of building an internal
control system (p. 210).
In determining the relationship between self-disclosure, personality
factors and mental health, we might survey the literature to see whether
or not the high self-discloser possesses traits similar to those discussed
above. In terms of personality factors, McClain and Andrews' study
and Gibb's profile suggest that the high self-discloser should exhibit
less conformity, less defensiveness, less concern with external approval
and authority, less distortion of interpersonal perception and more
accuracy in judgments, higher self-esteem and self-liking and greater
flexibility and accessibility of feelings.
Jourard, another proponent of a relationship between self-disclosure
and mental health, would probably agree with this (1959a, 1959 b, 1961f).
Jourard, in many of his writings, has proposed that "real self-disclosure
is both a symptom of personality health, and, at the same time, a
means of ultimately achieving healthy personality (1959:a). He also
believes that self-disclosure is inversely related to many psychosomatic
disorders, because "resisting becoming known is work which causes subtle
and unrecognizable stress."
Gibb's and Jourard's hypotheses are supported by studies demonstrating
a positive relationship between self-disclosure and such factors as self-
liking, self-concept and self-esteem (J.G. Shapiro, 1968; Swensen, 1968;
Fitzgerald, 1963). However, the exact nature of the relationship
between self-disclosure and personality factors, physical health and mental
Jourard (1961f) admits that he has not had much success in showing
correlations between measurable personality traits of subjects and the
amount, content, or target of their disclosures. However, he points out:
"None of my investigations along these lines has been specifically aimed
at studying individual differences as such, so we can assert that this
field is still virgin. If we are to believe the writings of others,
we might expect to find correlations between measures of authoritarian-
ism and self-disclosure; authoritarians are supposed to be impersonal,
anti-intraceptive individuals....I suggest that some of the measures of
self-concept might correlate with self-disclosure. It makes sense that
people who despise themselves might be more reluctant to reveal their
true identities through disclosure than people with higher levels of
self-esteem" (p. 36).
health is less clear cut and more difficult to interpret than the
preceding would suggest. Table 1 below presents summaries of investigations
in this area. In terms of results, the 45 studies may be classified as
(a) Twenty-eight studies found results in the direction
predicted by Jourard and Gibb;
(b) Five studies found results in the opposite direction,
i.e., high self-disclosure was accompanied by negative
(c) Two studies were inconclusive; and
Cd) Sixteen studies found no relationship between self-
disclosure and those personality-mental health factors
which Jourard and Gibb hypothesized should be related.
RESEARCH FINDINGS RELATED TO SELF-DISCLOSURE,
PERSONALITY AND MENTAL HEALTH -
Found negative or inconclusive relation between self-
disclosure and personality characteristics of need
achievement, dominance, affiliation and dogmatism for
male military personnel living and working i isolation
or in control groups. On affiliation in isolation group,
found equivalent and elevated self-disclosure levels
for all affiliation compositions (high or low). In
control group, those low in affiliation showed lower
self-disclosure than isolation group. High need achievers
produced higher self-disclosure to partners than low
need achievers regardless of condition, but this did
not reach significance. Low dominance persons were
somewhat higher self-disclosers in intimate topic areas.
High dominance persons were somewhat higher self-disclosers
of superficial information.
Male undergraduates seeking counseling reported less
self-disclosure to parents and more self-disclosure to
friends than did a control group. No significant
difference in mean total self-disclosure for males
seeking counseling and other male undergraduates was noted.
Self-disclosing behavior in prisoners was not significantly
related to psychiatric diagnosis, type of offense or
Found no correlation between self-disclosure and ascendancy
Found no correlation between self-disclosure and Rotter's
Internal-External locus of reinforcement in a group
Found no relation between high/low need for approval and
high/low self-disclosure histories. No difference was
noted in content ratings for high/low need for approval.
Predicted that high need for approval disclosers would be
more superficial, especially with a greater difference on
"private" vs. "public" questions. This prediction was
not borne out.
Found a significant correlation between self-disclosure
and openness of feelings. Found a negative correlation
between self-disclosure and the F, D, Pt, Sc and Si
scales of the MMPI. A positive correlation existed
between self-disclosure and referral by counselors for
Found a positive correlation between self-disclosure and
self-esteem for female college students. Low self-
esteem Ss disclosed the least, high esteem students
disclosed the most.
Found that using self-disclosure, experimental procedures
with alcoholics and drug addicts was beneficial in
helping these patients become involved in group therapy.
Found a positive correlation between self-disclosure and
conceptual complexity, a negative correlation with
authoritarianism, and positive correlations between
self-disclosure and peer nominations after 6 weeks,
with interpersonal flexibility and with general adaptability.
Found self-disclosure correlated positively with willing-
ness to reveal personal feelings and confidential material
for remainers in therapy. Remainers especially were
more willing to disclose attitudes toward parents and
self than drop-outs from therapy.
Himelstein Overall, self-disclosure did not correlate with the K
& Lubin scale (a measure of defensiveness) of the MMPI. Self-
(1966) disclosure correlated with the K scale only for male
Ss with the target "best male and best female friends"
specified (this was a very low correlation).
Hurley & Found that graduate students' scores on the Jourard
Hurley Self-Disclosure Questionnaire were not predictive of
(1969) disclosure in 3-4 member counseling groups, i.e.,
JSDQ scores did not correlate with the Hurley self-
disclosure rating, nor a direct disclosure rating. On the
other hand, JSDQ scores correlated positively with
nominations for most closed group members.
Jourard Found total self-disclosure scores correlated with
(1961c) Rorschach productivity. Rorschach productivity.correlated
also with self-disclosure to father and same-sex friend,
but did not correlate with self-disclosure to mother or op-
Jourard Self-disclosure correlates with repression and suppression.
(1961f) In a combined group of normal and abnormal MMPI profiles,
Ss showed less self-disclosure to peers than controls.
Overall, they disclosed less to peers. Overall, self-
disclosure was equal to that of those applying for therapy.
Found Ss with abnormal MMPI profiles do not establish
confiding relations with peers of both sexes.
Jourard Found clients at a university counseling center were
(1964) lower self-disclosers than a matched group not seeking
counseling. Found the counseling center group was also
more variable in self-disclosure.
Jourard Found self-disclosure to mother correlated with overall
(1964) Tennessee Self-Concept score. Self-disclosure to
father correlated with total score. Self-disclosure also
correlated with self-satisfaction score. Self-disclosure
correlated with primary group membership. Tennessee
Self-Concept scales did not correlate with self-disclosure
to best male or female friend.
Used questionnaires to measure the degree to which Ss
adopt permissive and understanding attitudes toward
role deviant behavior manifested by people ranging between
infancy and adulthood. Sampled 23 unmarried freshman
medical students. Found a significant negative correlation
between total self-disclosure to target persons and scores
of rigidity and moral indignation. The more indignant
the S was, the lower his self-disclosure score. Found
similar significant negative correlations for 28 staff
nurses (older students). For people older than 25,
found a correlation between openness to significant others,
ability to react understandingly and permissiveness
toward role deviants.
Compared MMPI profiles of "schizoid" and "manic-hyperactive"
individuals, but did not find any differences in level
Studied self-disclosure patterns in epileptics. Found
parents were preferred targets for self-disclosure
regardless of age and health-related information in
particular. Found epileptics chose not to reveal
"stigmatized" condition to some significant others.
Negative attitudes of parents toward epilepsy and revelation
of the condition outside the family encouraged a sense
of secretiveness and social withdrawal.
Found self-disclosure was related to effective mental
functioning for women, but not men. For women, the
general level of psychological health was related to
self-disclosure to father, but not to mother, girl
friend or boy friend.
Found nonsignificant (between .04 and .10) negative
correlation between self-disclosure and mean level of
anxiety, depression and hostility.
Found self-disclosure was negatively related to the degree
of mental illness. Female neurotics showed significantly
less self-disclosure than normals and also reported less
Using rOPI profiles, found low self-disclosing male
students showed significantly greater social introversion
(Si) than did medium or high disclosing males. Low
disclosers also showed a discrepancy between self-
appraisal and social ideal significantly greater than the
discrepancy between their self-ratings of self-appraisal and
self-ideal. This did not hold true for medium and high
disclosing males. Mullaney suggested that the amount of
self-disclosure depends both on personality factors and
on the degree to which the self is judged to be personally
desirable and unlike what society judges to be desirable.
Found no correlation between self-disclosure and 7
personality variables for females. However, for men,they
found that self-disclosure correlated with neuroticism and
a cycloid disposition (emotional instability). Found
that emotionally unstable males self-disclosed more
about personality, health and personal appearance than
did stable males. Unstable males told more in the
sheer number of words and disclosed the most to best male
friend, but not to mother, father, or best female friend
than did stable males. For males, thinking introversion
correlated with self-disclosure to mother, best male and
female friends, but not to father.
Found a significant relation between self-disclosure and
neuroticism and cycloid disposition for females. Found
a psotive correlation between thinking introversion and
self-disclosure for males. The most consistent correlation
for males was between self-disclosure and thinking
introversion. Males high in introversion self-disclosed
the most about themselves.
Found a low correlation between self-disclosure, self-
perceived wellness and job satisfaction.
In working with emotionally disturbed children, found
forces against communication of feeling varied as the
content to be discussed. The children treated were most
able to disclose feelings toward adults in the institution,
followed in rank order by disclosure of attitudes toward
their caseworker, painful feelings in general, attitudes
toward self and last in disclosability, attitudes toward
the family. Children were relatively consistent over
time and across targets in the extent of freedom to
disclose personal feelings.
Found in samplings of group therapy sessions that patients
valued sessions where they participated at what for them
was a high verbal level. However, found the rate of
comfortableness of the session did not relate to partici-
pation measures and subjective mood following the session
and understanding of people and personal problems were
largely unrelated to verbal activity.
Found a positive correlation between self-concept and
self-disclosure. Also found a positive correlation between
extroversion and self-disclosure. A negative correlation
existed between neuroticism and self-disclosure. High
self-concept Ss were also more accurate judges of their
own and partner's self-disclosing behavior.
Found no significant relation between self-disclosure and
marital adjustment in married couples.
Found high self-disclosurs were more consistent in emo-
tional expression of non-verbal messages than low disclosers,
but were no more extreme.
Found no difference in self-disclosure between Ss with
"normal" and "abnormal" MMPI profiles.
Found no relation between self-disclosure and neuroticism.
However, they did find a significant correlation for
females to either male or female friend.
Found high self-disclosers have a positive opinion of
themselves, are extraverted, grow up in close and open
families and are not masculine as defined by American
For mental patients, the greater the self-exploration,
the greater the personality change that was found to
occur. For institutionalized juvenile delinquents, the
greater the self-exploration, the less the personality
change that occurred.
Found self-disclosure was positively correlated with the
personality type of "other-directed" person.
Author Results --............
Vargas Found that male students reporting frequent positive
(1969) experiencing and behaving also reported greater levels
of self-disclosure. Low experiences reported the least
Vosen Found low self-disclosers had a decrease in self-esteem
(1967) in a sensitivity group experience. High self-disclosers
had no change in esteem.
Weigel & Found a negative correlation between self-disclosure and
Warnath ranking of "mental health" in therapy with the target
(1968) "group" specified. Found in disclosing, the individual
takes a chance on being less liked and also on being
labeled as less "mentally healthy" by peers. Group
members' ranking of mental health had a negative corre-
lation with "have told" to the group. However, therapists'
ranking of mental health and change in self-disclosure
were positively correlated for the groups.
Wharton Found no difference in self-disclosure among high, mean
(1962) and low infirmary users. Low morale and self-disclosure
were positively correlated for high users, while low
morale was negatively correlated for mean and low
Worthy, Found no relation between self-disclosure and authoritarian-
Gary & ism.
Thus, in contrast to Gibb's profile, a few researchers have found
either no correlation or a positive correlation between self-disclosure
and such personality attributes as authoritarianism, defensiveness,
internal-external locus of control, and ascendancy-submissiveness
(Tuckman, 1966; Chittick and Himelstein, 1967; R.M. Drag, 1968; Dutton,
1963; Himelstein & Lubin, 1966; Worthy, Gary and Kahn, 1969).
The question arises as to whether or not high self-disclosure is
actually a sign of maladjustment, inappropriate behavior and defensiveness.
The evidence is as follows:
(1) Pedersen and Breglio (1968a) found that "more healthy" males
were more superficial in their disclosures. "Less healthy" males were
likely to disclose more about personality and other intimate topics to
their peers. They suggested that self-disclosure in more impersonal
areas was socially acceptable and contributed to Ss' adjustment, where-
as self-disclosure about personal areas contributed to maladjustment;
(2) Brodsky (1964) found that males, seeking counseling assistance,
exhibited greater self-disclosure to peers. Pedersen and Breglio's
finding suggests that they may have been behaving inappropriately in
(3) Dutton (1963) found that self-disclosure positively correlates
with the MMPI K scale. Himelstein and Lubin (1966) also found a low
positive correlation, but only for male Ss and only with best male and
female friends. It should be remembered that the K scale has been
variously interpreted as a sign of ego strength or as a measure of
defensiveness, depending upon the level;
(4) Hurley and Furley (1969) found that high self-disclosure scores
correlated with nominations for most closed members of a group. They
concluded that self-disclosure scores have face validity only and that
defensiveness plays a big part in the production of scores;
(5) Himelstein and Lubin (1965), using peer ratings, found that those
nominated as high disclosers were not nominated as persons to whom
peers would disclose. This is in opposition to Jourard's findings that
self-disclosure invites self-disclosure; and
(6) Weigel and Warnath (1968), again using peer ratings, found that
high self-disclosers may defy group norms and hence be viewed in an
unfavorable light. They found in a post session, gToup members ranking
of other group members' mental health was negatively correlated with
self-disclosure questionnaire scores with the "Groji" as target (-.64
for Group A, Therapist does not disclose, -.82 for Group .B, Therapist
Discloses). On mental health, Therapist A was ranked first out of 6,
while therapist B was ranked 4.5th out of 7. In looking at the
differential ranking, Weigel and Warnath concluded that while therapist
B was better liked by the group members, in disclosing, he violated
expectations of the "professional image" and may therefore have been
seen as less mentally healthy. They concluded that frequently researchers
assume a unitary need for self-disclosure which may, or may not, be
present in all individuals. They also concluded that people frequently
respect and rate as "mature" and "mentally healthy" people who keep
up a good facade and suggest that the individuals'rated mental health
might be lessened if others knew more about their a.nguarded secrets.
Difficulties in interpreting results
The self-selection factor (remainers in therapy).--One of the
problems in interpreting results is the tendency to equate low self-
disclosure with low mental health by the criterion of individuals in
therapy. Many studies suggest that it is the healthier individual who
tends to remain in therapy. Rubinstein and Lorr (1956) found that
terminators in therapy (5 or less visits) were more conventional, un-
compromising in their views and less dissatisfied with themselves.
Lorr, Katz and Rubinstein (1958) found that terminators did not report
anxiety, lacked psychological sophistication and "insight" and were
authoritarian. Remainers were anxious, dissatisfied with themselves
and willing to explore their problems with others. Fey (1954), in
measuring expressed attitudes of readiness for therapy, not of a patient
group, but of 60 members of a freshman class, found that expressed
readiness was correlated with scores on scales of acceptance of others
and self-acceptance. They found that expressed self-acceptance was
not significantly related to therapy readiness (r= -.25), nor was
expressed acceptance of others (r=.18). Those least interested in
therapy had high self-acceptance and low acceptance of others.
In further studies, Strickland and Crowne (1963) demonstrated
the hypothesis that patients with high need for approval ,were more
likely to terminate early, presumably because of defensiveness. Taulbee
(1958), dividing terminators and remainers at the 13th therapy session,
found differences in personality were obtained by Rorschach and MMPI
responses. Continuers were higher on the MMPI symptom scales D, Pa,
Pt, Sc and gave significantly more Rorschach responses, rejecting fewer
cards. They indicated that continues were less defensive, more
persistent, anxious and dependent than those who left. They claimed
that remainers were more like normals in their Rorschach and MMPI scores.
Thus, involvement in therapy, per se, may not be a sufficient
criterion for determining the relationship between mental health and
levels of self-disclosure.
The sex factor.--Another complicating factor in evaluating these
studies is that self-disclosure, mental health and the need for counsel-
ing may be differentially related, depending upon the sex of the individual.
Heilbrun (1961a, 1961b), studying male and female personality correlates
of early termination in counseling, found that the client who conforms
most to expected cultural stereotypes of masculinity or feminity tends
to terminate early. Immature, inadequate males tended to remain, as did
independent females. The orientation of the counseling center was
toward increasing independence. Heilbrun suggested that the dependent
female found her expectations were not realizable in therapy, but were
more so outside counseling since female dependence was more congruent
with cultural expectations.
In a later study, Heilbrun (1962) tested the relationship between
counseling readiness (using a self-report) and four self-report personality
variables (self-acceptance, tendency to make a good social impression,
responsibility, and psychological-mindedness). The scale differentiated
terminators, as opposed to remainers, in therapy for males, but not
for females. Low counseling readiness was associated with insufficient
psychological problems and/or defensiveness. Heilbrun further noted
that the counseling-ready males and females tended to ascribe cross-
sexual characteristics to themselves. Males saw themselves as inhibited,
weak, timid, softhearted, etc., while females saw themselves as aggressive,
bossy, independent, unemotional. He further noted that while a strong,
significant negative correlation existed between self-acceptance and
counseling readiness for males, no such relationship existed for females.
These findings may help to explain the fact that several studies
have found self-disclosure in women is related to effective mental
functioning, while for men, other studies show that the high self-
disclosing male may well be seen as neurotic and be more likely to seek
counseling than the low disclosing male.
It also seems that self-disclosure has a different meaning for
males and females when directed toward the target "parents," as opposed
to the target "peers." Some findings indicate that those who seek
counseling disclose less to peers (Jourard, 1961f), while others find
they disclose more (Brodsky, 1964; Pedersen and Breglio, 1968a). Armstrong
(1969) studied students in counseling, as compared to those who were
not, with reference to the quality of their relationships with an
intimate friend and their tendency to use the friend as a therapeutic
agent. Armstrong found that females tended to form more intimate
friendships than males, but that there were no group differences with
reference to the quality of the friend relationship or use of friends
therapeutically Intimate friends, however, tended to be more accessible
to noncounseling students.
Age and age x sex factors.--Another difficulty in interpreting the
relationship between self-disclosure and mental health is that many of
the studies were conducted on adolescents or young adults. One may
question whether these findings are an accurate portrayal of total life
adjustment, or of high or low disclosure as an enduring personality
trait. Studies on personality consistency show that there are sex
differences indicating different degrees of stability over time for males
and females in different characteristics and that, on the whole, there
seems to be a greater degree of stability for females than for males.
Several reports from the California Adolescent Study, dealing with
the relationship between personality characteristics rated during
adolescence (around 15 years) and other presumably similar characteristics
measured in adulthood (around 30 years of age), point to consistency in
some personality characteristics and inconsistency in others. McKee and
Turner (1961), for instance, compared clinical ratings on strength of
drives during mid-adolescence with scores on the California Psychological
Inventory 15 years later. They found a fair degree of behavioral
consistency over this time interval. On the whole, however, a greater
degree of stability was found for women than men.
Mussen's (1961) analysis of data from the Adolescent Growth Study
on masculine sex-typing suggests some additional issues. His data point
to a basic continuity between adolescence and early adulthood in attitudes,
beliefs, and behavior patterns considered indicative of high or low
masculinity. However, he found a change in evaluation of these cases
on overall adjustment and adequacy of functioning in adult roles. In
adolescence, the highly masculine boys were rated as making a better
adjustment than the boys who were low on masculine characteristics.
In adulthood, this trend was reversed; the men who had been rated low
on masculinity during adolescence were evaluated as functioning better
in their adult roles than the men who had been highly masculine in
adolescence. Thus, the bases for evaluating good adjustment may shift
between adolescence and adulthood, and the characteristics required
for successful functioning in adult roles may differ from those required
in adolescence. It should be remembered that several self-disclosure
studies found that students seeking counseling tended not to follow the
culturally prescribed stereotypes for masculinity-femininity as prescribed
for their age group.
H.E. Jones (1958) also concluded that adolescent ratings are
not highly predictive of adult characteristics. However, he found a
significant relation between a few adolescent ratings and adult personality
test scores. Ratings on impulsivityy" and degree of socialization in
adolescence were highly related to adult measures of drive for aggression. "
The drive for achievement in adolescence correlated significantly with
social responsibility in adults. Jones concluded:
...in spite of these apparent consistencies it
can be noted that overall measures of adult adjustment
show little relation to adolescent drives. Although
strong drives and incompatible drives are often
associated with adolescent maladjustment, they are not
clearly predictive of adult maladjustment....The
problem here may lie partly in the fact that over a
long-period, behavior consistency, when it occurs,
may be countered by changes in the environment-.
The adaptive significance of a given behavior
pattern can thus be interpreted only with reference
to changing demands in the life situation (pp.49-50).
Much of the theory about mental health and self-disclosure seems
directed toward the problems confronting the adult age group, while
studies are primarily conducted on late adolescent, college populations.
At the present time, there are only two studies specifically dealing
with self-disclosure patterns by different age groups. And, these
two studies do not relate self-disclosure x age x mental health factors.
On the basis of the developmental studies cited above, it seems unwise
to state definitely that self-disclosure is positively related to
mental health for all age groups, or for age x sex factors. We will
need more cross sectional or longitudinal studies before this can be done.
The possibility of a curvilinear relationship
between self-disclosure and mental health
Few things in the real world seem to bear a linear relationship
to each other. At the most basic level, the life cycle itself seems
curvilinear. Examples of this are studies on such factors as changes in:
affiliation and related social needs x age x sex (Veroff, et al., 1960;
Strong, 1931, 1943); degree of happiness x age x sex (Kuhlen, 1948;
Morgan, 1937; Landix, 1942; Gurin, et al., 1960; Cavan, et al., 1949);
self-concept x age x sex (Lehner and Gunderson, 1953); degree of
caution and self-confidence x age x sex (Wallach and Kogan, 1961); and
incidence of suicide x age x sex (Parberow and Shneidman., 1965;
Shneidman and Farberow, 1957; Stengel, 1966). We may justifiably ask
whether this curvilinear relationship may also apply to self-disclosure
and mental health and whether it can explain apparent discrepancies in
the data. Very few have considered the possibility of this curvilinear
relationship in interpreting their findings.
However, on the basis of his own research, Jourard (1964) has
qualified his earlier position and become more cautious. He found that
clients at two university counseling centers tended to be lower overall
disclosers than a matched group not seeking counseling. He also observed,
however, that the counseling center group tended to be more variable
in its disclosures. Thus, some persons in counseling were extremely
Similarly, Barker (1965) found that certain persons originally
scored lowest in self-disclosure, at times were very high disclosers. He
Those persons who overtly refuse to disclose personal
material on the incomplete sentences blank, who
hostilely refuse, who make fun of the research, etc.
appear to be highly authentic on other measures. It
is those who refuse to self-disclose, but do not
admit or know they are refusing, who are the lowest
in authenticity on other measures (p.11).
Barker's finding suggests a valuing, decision-making factor in self-
disclosure. Just as the individual is free to decide to self-disclose,
so he is free to choose the opposite. When man is aware of and
actively chooses non-disclosure, his behavior may be "healthy." Perhaps
lack of awareness of the possibility for choice contributes to the
variability noted by Jourard's counseling group. These people may
feel driven either to be very high or very low disclosers.
This is seen most clearly by therapists who have encountered the
"pathological discloser." This person exhibits a compulsive need to
lay his soul bare to the world, while at the same time abdicating
responsibility for his actions and the consequences. He either refuses
to, or cannot, exercise his powers of judgment in what he will reveal
and to whom. If one therapy goal is to help the person learn to
evaluate situations more realistically, at times the therapist is placed
in the peculiar position of helping the individual to "lie a little," or
at least respect his own right to privacy. Jourard, thus, concluded that
the relationship between self-disclosure and mental health may be a
curvilinear one, i.e., too much or too little is "unhealthy."
A further issue,in evaluating studies relating mental health to
self-disclosure, deals with the value question of "adjustment-conformity-
mental health" as opposed to aliveness, growth and fully-functioning.
Jourard (1961g) has suggested that there is much in our culture that
does violence to the uniqueness and integrity of the person, and it
seems that men, who tend to be lower disclosers than women, may bear
the brunt of this. In a provocative paper, Jourard (1962) suggests
that the male role is highly lethal and that men may become therapists
in order to give tenderness, compassion and love within a structure
in which their masculinity is not questioned. It should be noted that
Swensen (1968) found that the high self-disclosing male did not live
up to the conception of masculinity as this is defined by American
There is little direct supporting evidence, however, for a cultural
factor in determining mental health x self-disclosure. Research on
the American and Western cultures has not given much attention to the
patterned successive consistencies or changes in the kinds of influences
to which the developing personality is exposed. Specific age-grading
and age-sex-typing pressures in the middle-class American family have
been pointed out by the Murphys (1937) who describe differences in the
"social situations" of boys and girls of different ages associated with
changes in the parents' handling of aggression and independence, in
their standards and pressures for achievement, etc. Similarly,
Bronfenbrenner (1961) discusses the different processes of socialization
to which the male and female child are exposed. Kagan and Moss (1960)
report on the stability of measures of passive and dependent behavior
from pre-school to middle childhood (at 10 years of age) and also to
early adulthood. They found that girls showed much greater stability
than boys in passive and dependent behavior between early childhood and
adulthood, suggesting the possibility of differential reinforcements
for boys and girls in this kind of behavior. The implication for
self-disclosure and personality is that there may be different orders of
stability over time for the two sexes and that men may be subjected
to many more opposing demands for disclosure during their lifetimes.
Jourard has already noted that men are lower disclosers than
women and that they are also more susceptible to stress illnesses,
especially as they grow older. He believes that in behaving strictly in
conformity with rigid role definitions and confining self-concepts,
man eventually loses contact with himself and feels despair. He
believes that "neurosis and psychosis are behavioral protests against
dispiriting ways of life, ways which inhibit full functioning" (1961f,
p.2). Jourard's arguments are in the same school of thought as
Kazantzakis's delightful creation, Zorba the Greek. Zorba, believing
that man needs a "touch of folly" or perhaps "madness" in order to be
free and fully alive, advises the rational man, that:
No, you're not free...the string you're tied to
is perhaps no longer than other people's. That's
all. You're on a long piece of string, boss; you
come and go, and think you're free, but you never
cut the string in two. And when people don't cut
Zorba, also feels that the rational man perhaps will never cut the string,
You have to risk everything! But you've got such
a strong head, it'll always get the better of you.
A man's head is like a grocer; it keeps accounts:
I've paid so much and earned so much and that
means a profit of this much or a loss of that much!
The head's a careful little shopkeeper; it never risks
all it has, always keeps something in reserve.
It never breaks the string. Ah, n6! It hangs on
tight to it, the bastard! If the string slips out
of its grasp, the head, poor devil, is lost,
finished But if a man doesn't break the string,
tell me, what flavor is left in life? The flavor
of camomile, weak camomile tea! Nothing like
rum -- that makes you see life inside out (p.334).
Thinking in terms of a curvilinear relation, and adding various
issues together, several interpretations of research findings are
(1) Those who seek therapy may be low disclosers and hence have
received no external validation of their existence. Perhaps at some
point (perhaps quite early), patients learned that to be open is quite
dangerous because it makes one highly vulnerable. Gibb (1965) has
discussed how "in our ignorance of the principles of learning, and in
our defensive distrust, we often do things as parents, teachers and
'managers' that deliberately 'train in' avoidance reactions" (p.201).
The person becomes dependent upon anticipated external reward -- and
upon the rewarder. He looks upon activities as something to barter,
rather than as intrinsically exciting, developmental, rewarding and
fulfilling. Thus, the low disclosing, "well adjusted," conforming
college student may have learned to distort and conceal data about
himself and his feelings. "He cultivates a polite and gracious exterior
by which he conceals a cautious, controlled, and calculating attitude
toward interpersonal relations. In other words, he develops a variety
of techniques in order to manipulate people, to accomplish pre-existent
goals and to 'get along with people' "(Gibb, 1965, p.200).
One might question what will happen to these people by the time they
are 30 or 40 years of age, and if they will be the ones who populate
(2) On the other hand, the high self-discloser in seeking validation
and risking all, may be invalidated or rejected by his less disclosing,
more conforming peers. In pilot work by Jourard and Gordon (1961),
it was learned that low disclosers tended to lack understanding and
permissiveness toward role deviants. Other studies (Festinger, et al.,
1950; Schachter, 1951; and Altman and McGinnies, 1960) suggest that in
highly cohesive groups, such as those formed by adolescents with their
peers, there is less tolerance for and greater rejection of individuals
who defy group norms, and greater efforts are made to bring the deviants
"into line." Thus, the deviant high discloser may come to counseling
wondering about his "difference" and his "madness."
(3) A third interpretation may be based on a question about
Western culture. This question is: Do we teach true sharing behavior
as opposed to either "competitive or martyr" behavior to our children?
Much of the self-disclosure research assumed that disclosure operates
according to the norm of reciprocity. Foote, in his analysis of love,
The child who is denied the opportunity to reciprocate
according to his powers the favors conferred upon him
by his parents is thwarted in the growth of these
powers. There is a crushing effect on the child
of having a parent ignore or disparage a gift
made and tendered. In books and articles on
child development, reciprocity rarely gets the
attention due it, while competition is frequently
cited. To deny a person opportunities for
reciprocity is to forestall his respect for self,
to keep dependent and inferior. This is one point
where resentment of do-gooders arises (1953, p.141).
Acknowledgement of one's needs for others implies a learned
capacity for forming and maintaining intimate interpersonal relations.
Erickson (1950) labels this aspect of normal personality as an attitude
of basic trust -- the ability to love. He believes the experience
during childhood of having need gratifications frequently associated
with the presence of another person -- a parent -- encourages development
of trust. Through a process of association and generalization, the
child comes to attach positive affect to others. As he develops, he
learns need-mediating behaviors of others are maintained only by his
reciprocating, by his entering into a relationship of mutuality
with others. If this mutuality is not required of him, he is likely
to perpetuate his dependency beyond the period of the biological level
of development and complexity which his culture defines as appropriate.
If he is required to demonstrate mutuality too soon, he is likely to
form a schema that interpersonal relations are essentially matters of
traded favors, instead of basic trust, and that the proper attitude is
one of getting as much as possible while giving no more than necessary.
Justification for this interpretation is provided by the work
of Skypeck (1967) who found that in the area of self-disclosure,
children do not receive reciprocal disclosing behavior from others.
Other studies have also shown that males do not receive as much sharing
behavior as females (father least disclosed to member of the family).
The fact that sharing is learned has been documented by Azrin and
Lindsley (1956). They found that with small children, in a conditioning
experiment, when no specific instructions concerning cooperation were
given, the children learned to cooperate when the matching behavior
of both yielded greater reinforcement. Only a single reinforcer was
delivered whenever a cooperative response was made and the children
learned quickly to divide the candy. Sharing of reinforcement was
necessary if reinforcement was obtained at all.
Azrin and Lindsley generalized this finding to the principle that,
in interactions between people, maintenance of the other's participation
and cooperation depends on sharing the reinforcers the situation has
to offer. They believed the frequency of personal problems in social
interactions involved an insufficiency of "sharing behaviors."
In support of this idea, Homans (1961) states:
People can hurt one another directly, as by trading
blows, but they can also do so by depriving one
another of rewards. They can either present negative
reinforcers or withdraw positive ones. The first
case is so obvious that we shall not bother with
it further, but consider only the second. So far
we have been mostly concerned with cooperation
between men. Cooperation occurs when, by emitting
activities to one another, or by emitting activities
in concert, to the environment, at least two men
achieve greater total reward than either could
have achieved by working alone...the situation usually
contrasted with cooperation is competition. The
contrast need not lie in the fact that the two
men now work alone. It means rather that each
emits activity that, so far as it is rewarded,
tends by that fact to deny reward to the other. The
activity is reinforced, but withdraws reinforcement
from the other. The competitive situation is one in which
delivery of available reinforcers to one is at the same
time withdrawal of potential reinforcement to another.
One individual gaining reinforcement constitutes aversive
stimulus for the other (p.13).
Self-Disclosure and Reciprocity Both In and Outside of Therapy
One of the basic assumptions of much self-disclosure research
is that "openness begets openness," and that in the long run, one
who feely shares data about his feelings reduces fear and distrust
in himself and others. Jourard (1959b, 1959c), for example, states
that a necessary condition for producing self-disclosure in another is
to volunteer it oneself. This idea was based on his experimental findings
of reciprocity or the dyadicc effect." Jourard believes this effect
is equally operative in psychotherapy and counseling and provides a
curative force. He states:
...the therapist's openness serves gradually to
relieve the patient's distrust, something which
most patients bring with them into therapy.
Still another outcome is that the therapist, by
being open, by letting himself be as well as he
lets the patient be, provides the patient with a
role model of growth-yielding interpersonal
behavior with which he can identify (1964, p.72).
In other words, the therapist's disclosure serves as a model of
authenticity for the patient and encourages his own self-exploration.
As the summary of research findings in Table 2 demonstrates,
reciprocity does occur in self-disclosure (i.e., 24 studies reported
finding reciprocity, 7 did not). However, the process through which
reciprocity occurs is unclear, as are the subsequent effects. There
are indications that reciprocity is both age, sex, time and topic-
linked to different target persons. More importantly, reciprocity
seems to change the patterning and timing of what is revealed, rather
than the final level of disclosure. Note that Hope (1967) found main
effects on self-disclosure only at specific levels of his three inde-
pendent variables: method of interviewing, first impression and inter-
RESEARCH RELATED TO SELF-DISCLOSURE
AND THE CONCEPT OF RECIPROCITY
Found that Ss tended to conform to confederate behavior
in the amount of self-disclosure. However, self-
disclosure was of very public information, e.g., age,
school major, etc. Personality variables were not
important. Both ascendant and submissive Ss tended to
conform to the confederate's level of self-disclosure
and no significant difference between the two personality
types was noted.
Having a more self-disclosing trainer in T-groups
resulted in greater self-awareness early in the life of
the group. Both groups (high and low trainer disclosure)
however attained the same level of disclosure by the
end of the group. Early differences were interpreted
as an acceleration effect caused by more self-disclosing
trainer behavior. Culbert found the same number of
"mutually" perceived therapeutic relations in each type
of group, but in the group with the less disclosing
trainers, these relationships more often occurred with
trainers, whereas in groups with more disclosing trainers,
they occurred with all members of the group.
Females who spent 20 minutes of mutual dialogue with E
were more willing to risk intimate self-disclosure both
with E and another S (peer) in a structured form of
mutual dialogue than girls who were simply interviewed
by E before structured dialogue, and actually asked and
answered more intimate questions.
For males, self-disclosure in 4-person groups in which E
did not self-disclose was significantly lower than self-
disclosure in 4-person groups in which E took part.
For Ss in groups of decreasing size (8-4-2 person) in
which E did not self-disclose, mean amount of self-dis-
closure increased in a linear fashion.
Working in 4-member groups of alocholic and drug patients,
where self-disclosure took place by passing notes and
visual contact was absent, found reciprocity was a
significant factor in the levels of disclosure reached.
Intimacies were given in terms of how much the individual
had received from other group members.
Measured indices of emotional self-disclosure by the
discrepancies between ratings of inner feelings and outer
expressions. Self-disclosure increased with the number
of interviews for clients. Therapist self-disclosure
remained stable up to interview 12 and then gradually
increased. With a continuing relationship, an increase
in self-disclosure for both therapist and client was
noted. Therapists in short term relationships decreased
self-disclosure with time, while clients experienced
more self-disclosure. Both clients and therapists in
continuing relationships experienced greater change in
client's self-disclosure than in the therapist's.
Studied E's relationship to Ss. Found a change toward
openness of response in the experimental group (E
discloses) and no change in the control group (E did
not disclose). Also.found greater degree of variability
in openness in the experimental group. The effect of
personal contact with E varied considerably from S to S.
Actors were used to simulate interviewer behavior.
Found friendly interviewers were best liked, but active
interviewers were most successful in sustaining verbali-
zation rates. Silent interviewers sustained the least
verbalization rates. Found silence was not equivalent
to a neutral, no treatment effect. Rather, it was the
most verbally inhibiting in terms of amount of disclosure.
Studied main effects on self-disclosure for each of
three independent variables: method of interviewing
(questions vs. mutual self-disclosure), first impression
(good vs. poor) and interviewer (I and 12). Main
effects occurred only at specific levels of the other
variables. No effect on change in willingness to self-
disclose due to any of the independent variables was
Found 4 nonsignificant and one negative correlation
between peer nominations of individuals perceived as
high self-disclosers and individuals peers would be
willing to disclose to.
College faculty members and their deans tended to receive
self-disclosure in proportion to the amount they gave.
Suggested that once contact has been made between two
people that they proceed to "uncover" themselves to
one another at a mutually regulated pace.
Self-disclosure from a target correlated with self-
disclosure to that target.
Found reciprocity does exist in self-disclosure.
Demonstrated a modeling or "follow the leader" phenomenon
in self-disclosure, akin to the work of Matarazzo, et
al. Forty females in 4 groups were interviewed in the
same manner. First, the E responded openly on 20
disclosure topics and then the S was asked to disclose.
The 4 groups were treated differently with respect to
the length of E's remarks over the 20 topics. Found a
significant relation between length of time E spoke
and duration of Ss' utterances. If the E was brief, S
was brief. If the E changed from long to short utterances,
Ss did likewise.
Found the amount of personal information male graduate
students revealed of themselves to fellow students was
highly correlated with the degree to which others were
known and the amount others had disclosed to them.
When low self-disclosing females were paired together,
the depth and intimacy of disclosure was much smaller
than when two high disclosers were paired together.
When a high discloser was paired with a low discloser,
the highs maintained their level of self-disclosure and
the low discloser increased her self-disclosure to the
level set by the high.
Found self-disclosure was positively related to other
disclosure for all groups and groups combined normalss,
normals with neurotic symptoms and neurotics). Neurotic
patients reported less reciprocity between the self
and other disclosure than the other 2 groups. Normals
with neurotic symptoms were in the middle. The various
groups tended to evaluate disclosures received differently.
Although not significant, trend analysis revealed 2/3
of neurotics felt their own self-disclosure was higher
than persons to whom they felt closest.
Looked at the effects of 3 E interventions on condition-
ing of Ss' verbal behavior in an experimental interview.
E's responses differentially effective in influencing
S's self-references: (a) approval-supportive statements
had no effect; (b) reflection-restatement was effective
in conditioning negative self-references; (c) E's own self-
disclosure effective in conditioning both positive and
Found a positive relation between self-disclosure
input and disclosure output. The relation between self-
rated disclosure and disclosure as rated by others was
High self-concept Ss induced higher disclosing behavior
among low self-concept partners of the opposite sex
than among high self-concept partners.
Studied self-disclosure in married couples. Found no
difference in stated knowledge or disclosure of husbands
and wives. Both thought they knew and had disclosed sub-
stantially more than was actually the case.
_____ ~_ ____ __ __
College students see women as receiving more self-
disclosure than males, but not giving more.
Children ages 6 through 12 disclose more than they
receive in return.
Male and female Ss, one-half of whom had high self-
disclosing histories and one-half of whom had low
disclosing histories, were interviewed for 2 half-
hour periods by the same E. One interview was characterized
as personal, the other impersonal. Results across all
four conditions indicated Ss did respond to the two
treatments, but the response was independent of the
order of presentation. Ss response to the two treatments
were independent of their inclusion in the high or low
The highest self-disclosure occurs if the target person
is a spouse or intimate peer of the opposite sex who
is similar in attributes, emotional stability and
extroversion, suggesting reciprocity.
Husbands and wives individually were given forms of
Jourard's self-disclosure questionnaire measuring output
and input from spouse. Found husbands and wives had
equal knowledge of each other. Wives tended to think
they had given and received more information than
husbands., A correlation between stated self-disclosure
and accurate knowledge of .68 was found for wives and
.72 for husbands.
Ss significantly matched the intimacy level of E's
confederates' self-disclosure, regardless of whether it
was low, medium-low, moderately high or high disclosure.
Therapists and hospitalized mental patients' transparency
was positively related. There was a significant relation
between therapist transparency or self-congruence and
the patient's level of self-disclosure or self-exploration.
Two therapists, A (no special instructions to self-
disclose) and B (instructed to be open and disclosing),
were used, in group therapies. No significant differences
between groups A and B were noted on the change scores of
"would tell to the group" and this did not increase
as a function of therapy sessions. The groups continued
to indicate they would be willing to disclose more to
group members than they had actually disclosed at the
end of 10 sessions; no difference was found in willingness
to disclose when compared with a control group (no therapy).
No differences were reported in actual self-disclosure
between the two groups. On "mental health", Therapist
A ranked 1st out of 6, Therapist B 4.5th out of 7.
Worthy, Intimacy of self-disclosure exchanged tended to follow
Gary & the norm of reciprocity.
Contrary to many hypotheses about the effects of therapist self-
revelation, both Weigel and Warnath (1968) and Culbert (1968) found that
therapy groups, at termination, were functioning at equal levels of
self-disclosure, regardless of whether or not the therapist was self-
disclosing. Culbert (1968), however, found having a more self-
disclosing trainer in a T-group resulted in an acceleration effect.
Individuals in groups where the trainer disclosed demonstrated greater
self-awareness early in the life of the group. This finding suggested
an "optimal" level of therapist disclosure depending upon the nature
and type of group. Culbert suggests that, at least in T-groups,
trainers might begin participating at a high rate of disclosure and
become more selective in their own disclosures as time goes on. Culbert's
suggestion is related to Goodman's (1962) finding that the patterning
of therapists' disclosures to clients differed depending upon whether
the relationship was long or short term.
R. Drag's (1968) experimental work with groups gives us additional
information. He found that the disclosure of subjects in 4-person
groups in which E did not disclose was significantly lower than disclosure
in 4-person groups in which E took part. For Ss in groups of decreasing
size (from 8-4-2) in which E did not disclose, the mean amount of
self-disclosure increased in a linear fashion. In discussing his findings,
It would appear necessary to talk about the
effects of E-behavior in two somewhat different
ways. Considering the replicability of an
overall experimental finding when the E discloses,
it is as though Ss have some definition of the
experimental task from which to work. Thus, their
performances are consistent, although not necessarily
different from the overall performances of Ss in
replications of the experiment in which the E does
not provide a model, or provides a negative model.
In these latter conditions, Ss tend to use the
experimental situation in much the same manner
as clinical psychologists require their clients
to use Rorschach blots--one must project his
own expectations for the demands and/or needs of the
experimenter onto the situation (p. 58).
Apparently group size (8-4-2-member) made no difference in amount of
disclosure when E also disclosed, although it did when E was silent, and
Drag suggests that this may be due to the E more clearly defining the
task for Ss through his own disclosure. Though not considered by
Drag, his finding seems consistent with other group research which
would suggest a differential finding of the effects of E behavior on
task performance, depending upon group size. For instance, Gibb (1951)
found idea productivity varied inversely with size of the group and
Taylor and Faust (1952) found that groups of 4 persons are slower on
concrete problems than groups of 2, but faster on abstract problems.
Hare (1952) found that consensus, interaction and satisfaction are all
higher in groups of 5 persons than in those of 12. Ziller (1957) found
that accuracy in decision-making is better in groups of 6 than in those
of 2 or 3 persons. Slater (1958) found that member satisfaction is
greater for groups of 5 persons than for either larger or smaller
groups and Schellenberg (1959) found consistently that students in
groups of 4 showed greater satisfaction in group discussion and higher
student achievement than students in groups of 6, 8, or 10 and that this
tended to be a linear relationship.
The work of Powell (1968), Heller, et al. (1966), and the Drags
(1968, 1968) also suggests the effect is due to the greater amount
of orienting information that the active therapist, or E, provides.
Passivity increases the situational ambiguity and provides few orienting
cues. Heller, Davis and Myers (1966) found that therapist silence is
not the absence of reinforcement, but actually negative reinforcement.
One would expect that Ss in such conditions would become less sure of
what is expected of them and become increasingly anxious, dissatisfied
Culbert (1968) also found a shift in the patterning of relationships
in groups where trainers disclosed. In the groups where the trainers did
not disclose, "therapeutic relationships" were formed primarily with
him, rather than other group members. In groups where trainers did
disclose, "therapeutic relationships" occurred with all members of the
group. It seems in the first condition, the trainer remained the power,
or hub, figure in the group, where in the latter condition, there seemed
to be more equal interchange throughout.
Culbert's study shed additional light on Weigel and Warnath's
finding that therapist B (instructed to be open and self-disclosing) was
more well-liked, but seen as less "mentally healthy" than Therapist
A (no special instructions to be open) by group members. Culbert
found that both of his trainers were viewed as therapeutic by the members
of groups in which the trainers disclosed little about themselves. In
groups where the trainers disclosed a great deal, one trainer was viewed
as therapeutic less often than the other, and less often than how he
was viewed by the group in which he disclosed little. Upon analysis,
it was found that, while both trainers made self-disclosure statements
in the high trainer disclosure groups, their statements were of different
types. The trainer who was viewed as less therapeutic had a higher
percentage of self-references focused on the interpersonal, interactional
aspects of the group process then occurring, whereas the other trainer
made more self-disclosure references focused on himself, alone.
In view of this, Weigel and Warnath make two assumptions that may
not be valid. They seem to imply:
(1) a therapist being judged "less mentally healthy" has
negative overtones (by implication, is non-therapeutic) and
(2) unless a therapist is specifically instructed to be self-
disclosing, he is by implication a non-revealer, and vice
In thinking about these two assumptions, it seems that first, non-
professionals initially tend to hold a stereotyped, dichotomous view about
the nature of "mental health."* This view is of the order "them vs. us"
*This is based on personal observations and experience in (a) teach-
ing an undergraduate, abnormal psychology course, (b) consulting with,
and leading, community groups composed of "normal" individuals, and
(c) conducting individual and group therapy sessions in a "traditional"
mental health institution.
or "you as compared to me." It is only %hen individuals cease to
dichotomize between "totally healthy or unhealthy" and forget about
labeling, that communication, understanding and positive regard begin
to appear. Weigel and Warnath's finding of "liked, but less mentally
healthy" might be interpreted as a sign of growth in the one group.
As for Weigel and Warnath's second assumption, it seems highly
unlikely that Therapist A was totally non-disclosing (unless
he strictly adhered to the Americanized, Freudian school of analysis),
simply because he was not instructed to be otherwise. Wrenn (1960)
asked 54 counselors to write responses to standard therapy situations
which were designed to maximize theoretical differences in the way
they might be handled. He found virtually no relation between concrete
situational responses and therapists' professed theoretical orientation.
An analytic therapist might be quite existential, the existential therapist
quite analytic and even the behavior therapist quite client-centered.
Wrenn suggested that we begin looking at what we do, rather than what
we say we do.
The suggestion is that rather than making an all-or-none statement
about the effectiveness of therapist self-disclosure, we focus more on
the concept of selective participation and the type of disclosure
communicated. Bugental (1965) emphasizes the importance of the therapist
modulating when and how he intervenes so that his participation is
maximally effective. He believes many therapists tend to talk too much,
too little, or at the wrong time. Self-disclosure is different than
pontificating, e.g., whatever the patient says, the therapist has his
own vignette or lecturette. Genuine dialogue-encounter is not
equivalent to exhibitionism or display of self. Rather, as Bugental
...it is a willingness to "be there" with the
patient, to confront the patient directly when
appropriate, to take responsibility for his
(the therapist's) own thinking, judgments,
feelings and to be authentic in his own person
with the patient (1965, p.371).
In the final analysis, it would have been more informative for Weigel
and Warnath to have analyzed the speech patterns of both therapists to
see if Therapist A was indeed totally non-disclosing and if not, to
see how Therapist A and Therapist B differed in the type of statements
In judging the effects of reciprocity in therapy, then, it seems
important to continue measuring situational factors, goals, and the
type of relationship. Rogers (1958a, 1958b) has already pointed out
many of the changes that occur in the content and extent of self-disclosure
as the patient and therapist proceed from the beginning to the end of
a successful therapy. Clearly the type of reciprocity or "trading"
established by a therapist doing crisis intervention work in the emergency
room of a general hospital would be different than that of a therapist
doing long term, individual therapy.
Reciprocity outside of therapy
Two final questions with regard to reciprocity remain unsettled. It
has been shown to operate according to a "trading relationship" and both
Culbert (1968) and the Drags (1968, 1968) suggest there might be an
optimal level of disclosure for therapists based on the goals of the dyad
or group. The questions remain: (1) how are trades made and is there a
"ceiling effect ," and (2) what is the role of listening or questioning?
How trades are made.--Jourard (1969) believes that once contact
has been made between two people, they proceed to uncover themselves to
one another at a mutually regulated pace. Reciprocity implies that
"trades" are equal and in a stepwise fashion. However, it is conceivable
that only the final level measured implies equality. In the foregoing
therapy and experimental research, the evidence suggests that one party
must operate at a leading level if increases in self-disclosure are to
occur at an early stage.
Jourard's dyadic effect represents a series of reciprocally con-
tingent interactions, with one person acting always at a higher level.
The graphs below are portrayals of theoretical possibilities regarding
the nature of "trades." The first figure on the left, theoretically,
would represent reciprocal self-disclosure as it occurred between two
people, if each trade of information was "equal." The second figure, on
the right, also represents reciprocity, but as it might appear with two
people taking turns at responding at a leading level. The last figure
represents self-disclosure as it might occur in a therapeutic relationship.
In this instance, the therapist's "modeling" has an accelerating effect
on later disclosures by the patient. These graphs are based on Jourard's
"mutually unfolding process" occurring in self-disclosure. These graphs
are strictly theoretical, however, as no one has yet determined what
this mutually regulated pace is.
1 2 3 4 5 6
Common Assumption of Reciprocity
Between Two People
1 2 3 4 5 6
Leading Level Assumption About
1 2 3 4 5
Reciprocity in Therapy
In line with this is the work of Brown (1966, 1968), who uses more
informal, observational techniques in the laboratory, and who, as yet,
has not supplied "hard" data. In studies of the acquaintance process
and self-disclosure, Brown is impressed with the successive formulations
of summative judgments made by Ss regarding peerage, communality and
agreement. He states:
At the prospect of meeting a stranger, we are
challenged with effort, some risk and a dim promise.
There occurs, on each person's part, a series of
amazingly fast calculations, relating oneself
to the other one. These come under the heading
of first impressions. There is a covert sizing up of
immediate apparencies....They yield an estimate
of peerage. The outcome of the first impression
stage of acquaintance seems to be based upon the
principle: like attracts like. The second
stage is one of "trial balloons." These are
offhand, casual remarks, which tend to be im-
personal, external and intellectual. These
"balloons" may be seen as attempts to further
categorize and localize the other one, and pos-
sibily, to connect oneself and the other one.
The outcome of this second stage seems to be
based on the principle: communality encourages.
The third stage looks like an exchange of random topics.
At a deeper level, these topics appear as check
points in the covert search for the other one's
orientations and values. "Ratings" are based
on reactions to current issues, especially
those of race, religion and politics, sex role
and relationships. The outcome of this third
stage seems to be based on the principle:
agreement strengthens....At any stage of the
process, alternate avenues are open, depending
upon the degree of similarity. Given dissimilarity,
the tendency is to taper and break the relationship.
Given similarity, the tendency is to expand and
deepen the relationship (1966, pp.2-3).
Although Brown's observations of Ss, involved in an acquaintance
process, were conducted over a much shorter time span, the findings
appear similar to the work of Newcomb (1965a, 1965b). Both suggest
a mutual unfolding, wherein each person progresses at his own pace
and influences the other one in a positive or negative manner such that
the relationship grows progressively deeper or is broken off.
In the absence of formalized relationships, such as disclosure to
a therapist or priest, an individual must make certain judgments before
disclosing. These judgents may be related to questions of liking,
vulnerability, cost/rewards, behavior control, etc. In disclosing,
people probably make interpersonal contracts with each other that
involve successive formulations of judgments in the order of a "yes" or
"no" to proceed in the relationship and deepen it. Jourard (1964) and
Brown (1968) stress that people tend to make rapid calculations in
relationships and progress through stages. Brown states:
As the relationship progresses beyond the first
meeting, there emerges a "testing of limits."
The pair establishes a conversational flow which
is seemingly meandering, rising and falling in
intensity and pace. The interaction at this
point can be likened to a ping-pong game. And,
as in the game, how good one can be depends upon
whom one is playing with. Audacity is a rare
trait, but when present impells to transcendence
in the relationship. Audacity, in one participant
must be reciprocated in the other for it to have
an effect in the relationship. Generally speaking,
the depth of the relationship will be governed by
the limitations of the least able participant
Brown thus believes that there are wide individual differences
in interpersonal transparency. In his studies, he noted that each
participant had her own "central tendency" and range of tolerability
and that personal styles of disclosure ranged from "hanging loose"
to "being up tight."
Other reciprocity studies, however, have found that high or low
disclosure is not a fixed personality attribute (Jourard and Resnick,
1970; R. Drag, 1968; Lee Drag, 1968; McLaughlin, 1965; Query, 1964;
Suchman, 1966; Mullaney, 1964). Regardless of this issue, however, Brown
felt his observations indicated that, in interactions between strangers,
the least able participant of the dyad (in terms of achieving transparency
or intimacy) will set the absolute limit for the pair. He states
Thus, the least able participant cannot deepen
the relationship; the more able participant can
"haul up short," with ease; furthermore, she
may find it in her short-term best interest to do
so (1968, p.4).
Other research, however, suggests that the more able participant
does not haul up, but is the one who directs the flow of conversation.
Weigel, Weigel and Chadwick's (1969) data on the influence of different
types of instructions in filling out Jourard's self-disclosure question-
naires suggest that from S's viewpoint, many disclosures are of the
"you go first" variety. Subjects are not adverse to disclosing, they
just don't want to be caught out on a limb.
In contrast to Brown's discussion that it is easy to "haul up
short" in disclosing, Maslow (1961) offers an opposing viewpoint.
Rather, it is his belief that this is tension producing. He states:
Secrecy is really a kind of splitting and
dissociation, which is a lack of wholeness of
integration. To the extent that I keep things
from you, my friend; to that extent we're
not friends, really. To that extent also, I have
split myself because then I am in a position of
having my muscles fight against my muscles. I
have a tendency to say something; then I stop
it. Now stopping it is an active process and a
fatiguing one. I am fighting against myself,
in such a situation. Unimpeded action, unimpeded
talk, unimpeded thinking, unimpeded perceiving
are frontier problems for us to work with (p.12).
In further opposition to Brown's position are the results of a study
by R. Drag (1968). He hypothesized that the individual who perceived
others as providing information at least as intimate as his own would
be likely to continue disclosing, whereas the individual who perceived
his own disclosure as more intimate would be less willing to disclose.
He found non-significant correlations, in the direction opposite to
that predicted, between self-other intimacy ratings and self-disclosure.
Drag attributed this finding to the inadequacies of his measuring
instrument. However, his may have been a noteworthy finding.
In the study by Jourard and Resnick (1969), high disclosers
pulled low disclosers up to their level, rather than vice versa. Chittick
and Himmelstein (1967) and Tognoli (1969) found similar results. These
researchers placed naive Ss in an experimental situation with confederates
of E. The Ss tended to conform to the pattern of self-disclosure set
by the confederates. When the confederates were high disclosers, Ss
tended to reveal more. When the confederates were low disclosers, the
Ss tended to be less revealing.
These four studies tend to suggest the concept of invitational
pull is an important one. In opposition to Brown's conclusions, the
findings just noted all suggest that self-disclosure is maximized
if one person is slightly more open and willing to risk than the other.
One participant must be willing to be more personally self-disclosing
than the other and to continue responding at such a leading level
until an optimum level of openness is mutually reached. If both
parties consistently respond at a low level, little impetus to move
forward exists and the dyad achieves stability at a low level. Perhaps
what Brown observed was the instance wherein the high revealer was
too far ahead of the other. This could also lead to a break down of
In looking at the trading of disclosure, little consideration is
given to how the nature of the relationship affects the equality of
trades. When does a stranger become an acquaintance and when does an
acquaintance become a best friend? Theoretically, at any point in time,
it would seem that in the "best friend" relationship, the amount of
self-disclosure would not have to be equal, although in the long run it
averages out. Best friend relationships could quite possibly tolerate
more strains. Similarly, in moving from stranger to acquaintance status,
trades might not be equal since there has to be some impetus to deepen
the relationship. Perhaps it is in that middle range between acquaintance,
friend, and best friend where mutuality is most important, over short
spans of time.
The role of listening.--Most of the self-disclosure research has
focused on verbal output, despite all the therapy training given to
development of the fine art of listening, and questioning, to carry
the therapy process forward. It is possible that an individual will
cut short his disclosures, if he feels his communications are not
heard, attended to, or understood. Listening with understanding can
be as risky as disclosing, and also requires a certain amount of courage
and personal security. O'Connell (1969) puts it thus:
The person in crisis sweats and squirms and
has his psychic balance shaken up in giving himself
to the struggle, and the therapist must also
expect to be processed in some measure as he
takes "the walk through hell" with the person.
He cannot expect to come close to the "fire" and
not himself to be processed a little (p.244).
If we listen with the intent to try and understand, then we run the
risk of being changed ourselves, as much as if we verbally disclose.
When we understand another, we may be exposing our own ideas, attitudes
and concepts about ourselves to opposing ones. To understand completely
an opposing point of view means that we have at least momentarily
looked at the world through another's eyes and we have tried to become
him for the moment. In the process we have suspended judgment and with-
In therapy, one of the dangers in losing distance from the patient
is that consequently we run the risk of actually adopting the other's
point of view or of having our view altered by his. To expose ourselves
to such. a change requires courage, because many of us are organized to
resist change. It is upsetting to discover we are wrong. A certain
amount of personal security is necessary to enter into a listening, as
well as disclosing, relationship, knowing that the stage is being set
for a possible alteration of ourselves. This area has not been directly
explored in relation to reciprocity, i.e., did the individual feel his
message had been received and/or was he as willing to receive messages
as to give them.
Subject Matter and Target Person for Self-Disclosure
Bunker and Knowles (1967) point out that self-disclosure in a
therapy experience is consistent with needs for prestige, power, self-
esteem and self-acceptance. Conditions outside therapy may be such
that: self-disclosure is inimical to the accomplishment of similar goals.
There may be some situations in everyday life where self-disclosure is
the most expedient means of accomplishing one's goals. But, the same
type of testing which preceded self-disclosure within the context of
therapy may prevail. The decision to directly express one's self may
further one's goals in some, but not in all relationships. What are
people willing to reveal about themselves and to whom?
Table 3 summarizes the research on self-disclosure x target person
(family relationships and other targets) and Table 4 summarizes the
research on self-disclosure x subject matter. These studies show that
people do tend to be selective and discriminating in their choice of
confidants. Individuals do not disclose the same amounts or kinds of
information to all people in their life. They tend to select only one
or two people in their life space as confidants. A certain amount of
agreement was found for the subject areas that can be revealed indiscrimi-
nately to all and other areas where more selectivity exists. This is
further demonstrated in a later section dealing with status characteris-
tics x self-disclosure.
RESEARCH RELATED TO SELF-DISCLOSURE x TARGET PERSON
Male undergraduates seeking counseling reported less self-
disclosure to parents and more self-disclosure to friends
than did controls.
Studied self-disclosure in military prisoners using two
self-disclosure questionnaire forms. Ss were asked to
rate 40 personal items with reference to the amount of
disclosure to mother, father, closest male friend, best
female friend and spouse. The other listed self-disclosure
targets as: closest prisoner friend, next closest, staff
persons felt closest to and next closest staff person
one week after confinement and 5 weeks later. Found
prisoners had higher self-disclosure to individuals
outside of prison, e.g., mother and closest female
friend and then father and closest male friend.
Found a correlation between self-disclosure to parents
and religious behavior.
Found remainers in therapy were more willing to reveal
information about attitudes towards parents and self
than were terminators.
Found no difference in amount of self-disclosure between
married and unmarried Ss. Rather, marriage resulted in
a redistribution of self-disclosure with concentration
on the spouse. Single college Ss confided the most in
their mothers. Found both males and females disclosed
the most to the mother, next to a female friend and then
to a male friend. The father received the least self-
disclosure. Female students disclosed least to their
boy friends, as did males to their girl friends.
Found self-disclosure to mother, female friend and father
predicted nursing school grades. There was a significant
correlation between grade point average in nursing
courses and self-disclosure to mother, female friend and
total self-disclosure. Self-disclosure to a male friend
did not significantly correlate with grade point average.
Married Ss of both sexes disclosed less to parents and
same-sex friend than unmarried Ss and more to their
spouses than to any other target. Men frequently had
no confidant other than their spouse, while married
women continued to disclose to their mother and girl
friend. Husbands disclosed on their money situation to
wives more freely than they disclosed facts about
attitudes and opinions, tastes and interests, work,
personality or body.
Wives reported disclosing more about anxiety than did
husbands. There was no sex difference for disclosure on
other topics. Husbands' and wives' disclosure scores on
the topic of anxiety were correlated, but not their
scores on non-anxiety topics. Husbands disclosures on
anxiety were related to marital satisfaction, but this
was not true for females. Wives' disclosure on anxiety
was positively correlated with variability of satis-
faction and their husbands' attitudes towards intimacy.
For women, general level of psychological health was
related to self-disclosure to father, but not to
disclosure to mother, girl friend or boy friend.
Komarovsky Low class individuals disclosed differently to their
(1959) spouses than did middle class individuals (see status
characteristics x self-disclosure).
Levinger For pleasant feelings, the average S reported 75%
(1964) disclosure to his spouse and 35% disclosure to best
friend. For unpleasant feelings, S reported 62% disclo-
sure to spouse and 16% disclosure to best friend.
Husbands and wives were equal with respect to disclosure
of pleasant feelings, but wives reported greater self-
disclosure of unpleasant feelings. Couples indicating
more marital satisfaction had greater disclosure of
feelings (particularly positive ones). No differences
existed in communication for couples married a short
time (0-6 years) or a longer time.
Levinger Self-disclosure of one's feelings to one's spouse
& Senn correlated positively with general marital satisfaction.
(1967) Strong evidence of mutuality of disclosure existed:
the higher one partner's proportion of disclosure,
the higher the other partner's tended to be.
Mayer Found different amounts of affect are invested in marriage.
(1967) A corrective approach existed for middle class individuals,
an accomodative approach for lower class Ss. Middle
class wives disclosed two times as much as lower class
wives. They also disclosed more to husbands, friends
and professionals, and less to relatives. Lower class
wives talked almost exclusively with relatives on their
side of the family, middle class wives to relatives on
both sides of the family.
Mellers High self-disclosing Ss reported more positive parental
(1965) perceptions. Found no difference among high, medium,
or low disclosers with respect to parents' evaluations of
Mudd, et al. Found happily married couples are more sensitive to
(1965) the needs of their partner and have the ability to
communicate feelings and emotions regarded by the couples
as vital to their marital success.
Mullaney Found a significant difference in total amount of
(1964) disclosure to different targets. He suggested the
amount of disclosure in a given situation depends on
Shapiro, A. &
the target encountered and the "disclosure category"
of the person who encounters. High disclosers chose
the father and mother as objects of the most disclosure
and did so to a greater extent than the low discloser
group. Found a significant difference in the total
amount of disclosure to different targets. Regardless
of the target, the amount of disclosure remained
constant for low, medium or high disclosure groups of
male college students. Highs chose the father and mother
as objects to a greater extent than did lows.
Studied communication patterns in marriage. Found
happily married couples, as compared to unhappily
married couples, tend to (1) talk to each other more,
(2) conveyed the feeling that they understood what
was being said to them, (3) communicated about a wider
range of topics, (4) preserved communication channels
and kept them open, (5) showed more sensitivity to
each other's feelings, (6) personalized their language
symbols, and (7) made more use of supplementary non-
verbal techniques of communication.
In an experimental setting measuring the effects of
three types of E interviewing styles, took pre-experi-
mental measures of Ss' past self-disclosure to mother,
father, best male and best female friend. Found the
greater the past disclosure to mother and father, the more
negative information Ss were willing to reveal in
response to E's approval and supporting statements.
Those who had closer relationships with parents were
more easily influenced by a supportive E to reveal negative
aspects of the self.
Found adolescents disclosed more to mother than to
father. Disclosure to same-sex targets was greater than
disclosure to opposite sex targets, when the targets
were peers. The amount of disclosure to father decreased
faster than that to mother with increasing age.
Asked Ss to indicate what they had told their spouses
and what had been disclosed to them in return. Found
the most accurate estimates of disclosure occurred in
the topic areas of "sex and body" and "attitudes and
opinions." The least accurate estimates of disclosure
were in the areas of "work or studies" and "personality."
Most knowledge of spouse's personality came from
observing behavior, rather than through verbal disclosure.
The correlation between stated self-disclosure and
spouse's accurate knowledge was high, but both husbands
and wives over-estimated how much they had been disclosed
to and how much they knew about each other.
Found that, except for negatively toned behavior, the
father received the least self-disclosure and female
friends the most disclosure for a group of undergraduates.
Sought to determine the lowest common denominator in
love relationships. Found self-disclosure was chiefly
characteristic of love relationships with friends of
both sexes. Unmarried male and female Ss disclosed
the most to their mothers, and the least to their
friends, as opposed to Jourard's finding.
Found high self-disclosers grew up in close and open
families. The highest disclosure occurred in the target
when he was a spouse or intimate peer of the opposite
sex who was also similar in attitudes, emotionality,
stability and extroversion.
In a factor analysis of 383 statements regarding love
relationships, found the "verbal expression of feeling"
was one of 7 significant factors.
OTHER TARGET RELATIONSHIPS
Studying prison ner disclosure of institutionally related
events, found disclosure to fellow prisoners was
significantly higher than disclosure to guards, or
Found pris o ners disclosed the most to persons outside
the institution, less to fellow prison ners and least
to the pris on staff consistently over a 13-week period.
Found differences in patterns of openness in confiding to
the targets other inmates, prison staff, non-prison
friends and family, were significant. Their findings
did not support the presence of a clear "prisonization"
process, but rather suggested continuity of tendencies
to disclose the self in both free and prison settings.
A group of Ss interviewed by E subsequent to taking the
Edwards Personal Preference Test showed significantly
more changes on readministration of the test than did
Ss not so interviewed. Also found significantly more
changes on ranking of E as preferred target for
disclosure. Following the experiment, found ranking
changes made by the experimental group were more
favorable in ranking for such targets as scientific
interviewer, questionnaire and "this E" as recipients
for disclosure, than controls. The trend was in the
predicted direction, but significant only for the
target "this E."
Found nursing assistants disclosed as little to their
boss and subordinates as to their colleagues. Nurse
I levels disclosed less to boss and subordinates than to
colleagues and Nurse II levels disclosed more to boss
and subordinates than colleagues. This may have been
an artifact, inasmuch as Nurse II's had little contact
with other nursing II's because of their shift schedules.
Found men who had formed closer heterosexual relations
(more past disclosure to best female friend) were more
willing to reveal undesirable personal information to
a self-disclosing E. Suggested openness with another
and the ability to establish closeness with persons
of the opposite sex were important variables.
Found friends were disclosed to the most, strangers
next, and acquaintances the least.
Gave Ss an opportunity to rank 15 disclosure targets or
settings with reference to how willing they would be
to make themselves known. Found Ss were more willing
to disclose to intimate friends, spouse, parents,
therapists, diaries, clergyman and/or anonymous question-
naires than they were to disclose directly to a scientific
Found employees at 4 levels of an insurance company
reported the greatest willingness to disclose to fellow
workers and greater willingness to disclose to an
immediate supervisor than an immediate subordinate,
even if the supervisor was addressed by his last name.
Tuckman Found friends both probed and revealed more to each
(1966) other than did acquaintances.
Weigel, Found females reported more disclosure to same-sex
Weigel & friends than did males and disclosed more to same-sex
Chadwick friend than to father, or opposite sex friend.
RESEARCH RELATED TO SELF-DISCLOSURE x SUBJECT MATTER
Studied self-disclosure in isolated and non-isolated men.
Reached the conclusion that people discriminate in the
quality of information exchanged with others, with a
general tendency to disclose more superficial or non-
intimate aspects of the self and fewer highly personal,
deeply intimate items. Found this was the case whether
the other person was a close friend, casual acquaintance,
etc. Found greater self-disclosure in non-intimate areas,
whether Ss perceived themselves to be compatible or not.
Suggested self-disclosure occurs as a wedge-shaped
function, i.e., a broad base representing disclosure
of superficial information to others and a narrower
section representing more intimate or personal infor-
In prisoner self-disclosure, found the highest
disclosure item was "incident which brought you here."
Found "public" questions elicited shorter reaction times
than "private" questions in Ss' interviews with E. Also,
"public" questions elicited more personal content ratings
than "private" questions. "Public" questions
did not yield a longer speech duration.
Ss in interaction in dyads for the first time in an
experimental situation proceeded to high levels of disclos-
Male Ss in interaction for the first time in an experi-
mental group situation proceeded to high levels of
intimate disclosure without exchanging superficial
Found white college females disclosed more in "public"
(tastes, and interests, attitudes and opinions, work
and study) than in private areas of the self (money,
Found that when he combined sex x type of interview,
high self-disclosure topics elicited less self-disclosure
than medium or low intimacy topics.
Found' remainers in therapy are more willing to reveal
personal information, especially about attitudes towards
parents and self, than are terminators.
Found people were more willing to disclose about
attitudes and beliefs, tastes and interests, and feelings
about work and study than they were to discuss financial
affairs, personality worries and body concerns.
Found U.S. and Puerto Rican students of both sexes
resembled each other with respect to topics of personal
data readily disclosed, or not disclosed. Both groups
seemed to have similar norms.
Found that in an experimental situation, Ss talked
longer on high intimacy topics, but that the difference
in disclosure time between high and low intimacy value
topics was not significant.
Twenty applicants for police and fireman jobs were
interviewed by an E and their speech patterns recorded.
The E steered discussion to the topics of family, and
educational-employment history. Found that the duration
of utterances was not a function of content topic and
did not vary among the beginning, middle or final thirds
of the interview.
Shapiro, A. &
Found high disclosing male college students revealed -
significantly more in the personal areas of money, body
and personality than low disclosing male students.
Studying 30 mixed psychiatric patients in a standardized
interview conducted by the same psychiatrist, found that
patients who speak less frequently, respond quicker,
talk longer and are more dominant, produce content more
oriented toward others and interpersonal interactions.
These patients saw themselves as assuming more dominant
(paternalistic or hostile) social roles. Those less
active verbally, more hesitant and submissive to
interpretations produced more non-interpersonal content
and described themselves as submissively hostile.
Found disturbed children were most able to disclose and to
discuss feelings toward adults in the institution,
followed in rank order by attitudes toward caseworker,
painful feelings in general, attitudes toward self and
last in disclosability, attitudes toward family. Children
were relatively consistent over time and across targets
in the extent of freedom to disclose personal feelings.
Using a naturalistic classification of responses in
nondirective therapy, the content of 60 interviews
were classified into various client and counselor
categories. During the course of therapy, statements of
problems declined and insight and understanding increased
and this shift correlated with the therapist's judgment
of outcome. Positive attitudes of the patient (with
increasing concentration on self vs. others) increased,
negative attitudes decreased and shifted in tense. Early
in therapy, positive attitudes were expressed in the
past tense and negative attitudes in the present, with
the situation reversed late in therapy.
Studied self-disclosure in married couples. Found the
highest correspondence between stated self-disclosure
and spouse's knowledge in the areas of "attitudes and
opinions" and "body and sex." Lowest correspondence
occurred in the areas of "work or studies" and "personality."
Found Ss of both sexes disclosed more about attitudes and
interests and opinions than more personal areas.
Asked patients involved in group therapy to rank a list
of 15 topics for discussion as to the extent they were
thought helpful or a hindrance to treatment, and to the
progress of the group, as well as the individual.
Those topics ranked most helpful related to the patient's
maladjustment: sex, symptoms and anxiety, shame and
guilt and effects of early life. Ranked least helpful
were discussion of people outside the group and social
and work problems. Topics ranked as helpful were also
rated as disturbing. Topics judged by 35 psychologists
as items only to be brought up in an intimate relation-
ship were correlated with those patients ranked as
helpful and with judges intimacy ranking. A few topics
ranked as helpful were judged to be appropriate for
discussion in non-intimate relationships.
Found male Ss (roomates) exhibited a greater amount of
disclosure in superficial, rather than intimate, areas
over a 13-week period, regardless of whether dyads were
categorized as high or low disclosers. High disclosure
dyads, however, engaged in significantly more activities
at the most intimate levels than did low disclosure
Did not find a gradual increase in depth of disclosure
over time. Most Ss (except for those in a "later
positive experimental condition) showed the highest
level of disclosure during the first period of inter-
action, then gradually, but not significantly, increased
in intimacy of disclosure from the second to the last
period. Regardless of reward/cost conditions and
type of situational commitment, all Ss spent more time
talking about superficial topics as opposed to intimate
topics. Positive groups (reward/cost) showed greater
increases in the amount of time talked over trials than
negative groups and increased to a greater extent at
high or medium levels of intimacy.
Found that both probing and revealing were greater in
non-intimate than in intimate areas of disclosure.
Probing exceeded revealing in intimate areas, while the
reverse held true in non-intimate areas.
One interesting finding in these studies relates to marriage, where
one would expect to find deeply personal relationships. Speaking of
his own marriage in the book, The Healing Partnership, Steinzor states:
Most important of all is the luck of meeting Luciana,
who helped me become a more open person than I had
been. She and I have made marriage the healing relation-
bar none--that it is supposed to be. This has then
encouraged me to participate more in self-revelation
with others and given me an unshakable belief in the
possibilities of love (1967, p. xi).
However, based on the research, many husbands are less open about
feelings than are their spouses. Furthermore, many married couples
have "blind spots," operating on assumptions about what they know about
their partners, when in fact, this has not been discussed. The most
knowledge about personality comes from observations about behavior,
rather than through actual discussion.
One needs to feel safe to be open and honest about one's feelings,
both positive and negative, if open communication is to take place.
Jourard (1964) states about marriage:
...in a healthy relationship, each partner feels
free to express his likes, dislikes, wants, wishes,
feelings, impulses and the other person feels free
to react with like honesty to these. In such a
relationship there will be tears, laughter, sensuality,
imitation, anger, fear, babylike behavior and so
on....The range of behavior, feelings and wishes
which will be brought out into the open is not
arbitrarily limited. In fact, one gauge to the
health of the relationship is the breadth of
topics of conversation, the range of feelings,
which are openly expressed and the range of
activities which are shared. In each case, the
broader the range, the healthier the relation-
That self-disclosure and knowledge of the other in marriage is not
necessarily a function of time has been shown in several related studies.
Fitts (1954) found wives and husbands did not seem to predict each
other's self-concept much better than did teachers and fellow students.
Wittreich (1925), using the distorted room of the Ames demonstrations,
found that people married less than one year seemed to be constant in
avoiding distortion of their mates in contrast to couples married two to
Ryder (1968) looked at differences between husband-wife dyads,
as opposed to pairs of married strangers, on a color-matching test.
He found the distinction between couples and pairs of married strangers
was more crude than he had previously imagined, i.e., it was based
more on situational factors (I am a stranger vs. this is my spouse),
than on subtle details of the interaction. He found husbands were
more likely to take the lead in conversation with wives than with
female strangers and were more task-oriented with wives. Wives, on
the other hand, tended to laugh less with spouse than with male
strangers. They alsb used more disapproval of spouse, as did husbands.
Overall, Ryder found Ss tended to treat strangers more gently and
generally more nicely than they did their spouses. He felt this was a
built-in source of instability in marriage. People were about as
responsive to strangers as to spouses and strangers were nicer to them.
People expected to have a more pleasant time with someone other than
their own husband, or wife, and did so for reasons which had nothing to
do with the particular personnel involved.
There is evidence that positive or negative experiences within the
family produce levels of disclosure which generalize to later intimate
relationships. Mullaney (1964) found that low self-disclosers perceived
the father's discipline to be lax in the home and also were more
"mother-oriented" in the area of affection. The high self-disclosure
group tended to center affection more on the father and mother equally.
High disclosers also had significantly greater positive identification
with both the father and mother than did the low disclosure group. The
low disclosers also made less use of family ceremonies than did highs.
There seemed to be a relation between the mode of affection and amount
of identification, on the one hand, and joint family ventures on the
other. Both were related to the amount of self-disclosure exhibited by
Ss in other relationships.
Other questions related to target person and subject matter revolve
around the way people reveal themselves. Altman (1963) and others
have hypothesized, and demonstrated, that self-disclosure proceeds in
an orderly fashion from relatively superficial areas to deeply personal
ones over time. In general, people tend to talk more about superficial
topics than deeply personal ones. Drag (1968) and Drag (1968) found,
however, that many Ss would skip over superficial questions in ex-
perimental interviews, and not only ask very personal questions, but
would be willing to disclose on them at a highly intimate level in
return on a first encounter.
A value assumption seems to operate (Altman,1963; Altman and
Haythorne,1965; Brown, 1966, 1968) i.e., that only long, drawn out,
continued relationships are meaningful, or have a lasting effect.
Disclosures during a brief encounter are useless forms of "catharsis."
Existential philosophy, however, emphasizes that experiences possess
the dimensions of time and intensity. A sunset may last for 45 minutes,
a love relationship for 10 years, and discovery and confrontation with
the self for a fraction of a second. Landsman (1961) elucidates these
points as follows:
I. Over the dimension of time, a fleeting smile
of a stranger may be contrasted with a life long
friendship of twin brothers. Early this fall in
between two talks at Middle Tennessee State College,as
I wandered over the campus, a number of students,
none of whom I shall probably ever see again, each
smiled and said "hello" as I passed. This warmed
me then and still does now. From the first day of
my life to this one, I have known my older brother with
increasing warmth. Both of these experiences are
positive--they differ in time of duration and, of
course, in ultimate effect. Relationships may be
fleeting or may be durable.
II. The intensity dimension is nowhere better seen
than in human relationships. Though either brief or
enduring, any relationship may be superficial or
achieve heights. A relatively brief meeting,
though usually also short, can also be of considerable
depth. I have fallen into deep interaction for
perhaps only a few hours or days with new friends
and have left considerably enriched. There are
acquaintances whose relationships are quite durable,
but of little consequence. And then, of course,
there is that penultimate, an enduring relationship
over time....It is also apparent that relationships
which are durable may vary during their existence in
experienced intensity....The variation does not
necessarily move to the lesser levels although there
seems to be some evidence of a kind of regression
phenomena--relationships eventually returning to
some sort of mean. The last problem, that of building
relationship experiences, or perhaps one human
relationship experience alone which is lasting and
durable as well as achieving ever exceeded heights
may perhaps be the personal problem of our age (pp.47-48).
If, however, Altman and others are correct, and time is more
important than intensity, then one may question how much generalization
there can be between behavior seen in the experiment (between two
anonymous Ss or an S and E) and that in everyday relationships. R.M.
Drag (1968), using male Ss, in a post-experimental interview, found
that Ss would not have shared self-information with close friends
or roomates which they shared with fellow Ss in the experiment. Lee
Drag's (1968) female Ss, on the other hand, reported that they had
used questions from the experiment as stimuli for further discussion
with roomates and boyfriends. This discrepancy may have been related
to noted differential disclosure patterns between the sexes, but it
bears further investigation. R.M. Drag (1968) feels serious consideration
should be given to this possible source of "positive error" in on-
going self-disclosure research. Willingness to disclose more to a
stranger than a close associate has also been labelled the "bus rider
Verbal Self-Disclosure Versus Other Modes of Expression
Many believe that one common communication difficulty stems from
our tendency to think of communication solely on cognitive and verbal
levels--in terms of ideas and words--although an important aspect of
communication is also the understanding of feelings. This distinction
between cognitive and affective elements in communication is summarized
by Martineau (1957):
Superficially we think that words are the only form
of communication, because we live in such a highly
verbal atmosphere. Yet in actuality there is a far
greater amount of nonverbal communication going on
all the time through the use of other symbols than
words....Besides expressing logical thought, our
words and actions are also indicative of the
emotions, attitudes, moods and intention of the
speaker. Whenever we speak, we are offering two
different kinds of clues. One is manifested by the
thought content. The other is at the level where
intuition operates, where the speaker conveys his
feelings, his intentions, his motives (pp. 133, 139-140).
It has not been determined as to whether or not the 'term "self-
disclosure" applies strictly to verbal, as opposed to other channels
through which individuals communicate and come to know each other.
I do not know whether a distinction can be made, without losing
important data about the disclosure process. That there are other
forms of intimate communication is well established. At times these
are in accord with verbal messages, at other times they are at odds.
For instance, prior to the time when children learn to talk and under-
stand speech, we communicate through such behavioral acts as holding,
touching, stroking, rocking and feeding.
Much research has been done on nonverbal messages (voice tonality,
facial expression, body movement, etc.) by those interested in communi-
cation theory. One such area is psychotherapy. Therapy is usually
conceptualized as "verbal exchanges." The assumption is made that
silence is negative behavior, i.e., silence is seen as non-disclosure,
as resistance by the patient and a therapeutic tactic if originating
from the therapist. While Heller, Davis and Myers (1966) found that
silence was not neutral and that interviewer silence discouraged further
communication, Bugental (1965) states:
Silence provides a relatively neutral medium or
baseline to which the therapist can return and which
helps to give more emphasis to the interventions he
does choose to make. The things the therapist does
say gain added force from the fact he does not say
very much (p. 117).
In further refutation of the position that verbal speech is a "cure-
all," Bassin and Smith (1962) found a zero order correlation between
the amount of talking of 15 individuals in two group therapy sessions
and the extent of changes measured. Their data indicated that, for some
group participants, silence may be golden. Similarly, Cook (1964)
studied the relationship of silence to movement in individual client-
centered therapy by examining recordings of early and late interviews
in five successful and five unsuccessful cases. Contrary to the view