Vaughan’s Vocabulary

This summer I’m writing about some interpersonal communication theories. “Theories of Human Communication” by Stephen Littlejohn and Karen Foss points out that the social penetration theory, developed by Irwin Altman and Dalmas Taylor in 1973, set in motion a tradition of investigation into relational development.

Littlejohn and Foss ask to imagine yourself as a sphere within which everything that might be known about you is contained. The sphere’s information is not a jumble; it is highly organized around a core. The most private aspects about your “self” are close to your center and farthest from what others can detect.

Altman and Taylor’s four stages of relational development are orientation, exploratory affective exchange, affective exchange, and stable exchange. They correspond to the spatial order of the sphere.

For example, the sphere’s exterior is closer to what others can see (the clothes you’re wearing, your outward behavior). This is the orientation stage. The things close to your center are disclosed in the stable exchange stage, where two people know each other extremely well.

[1.] Which one could the SP theory be aptly compared to?

A. a rutabaga

B. an onion

C. an apple

D. a kumquat

E. an avocado

SP theory has been compared to the four layers of an onion. I like how the book “Engaging Theories in Interpersonal Communication” puts it: “As information is disclosed, the onion’s layers are peeled back, signifying the development of the relationship.”


[2.] Another word for “disclosed” is

A. hidden

B. probed

C. revealed

D. stymied


[3.] Which two are general principles of SP theory?

A. It’s not a good idea to talk to strangers.

B. The less two persons disclose about themselves the more intimate the relationship.

C. The more two persons disclose about themselves the more intimate the relationship.

D. You really get to know another person by penetrating his or her sphere.

E. A relationship is not a relationship unless all four stages are entered.

No. 2- C. No. 3 is C and D.


[4.] cost-effectiveness

A. the production of positive results with little costs

B. knowing the high costs in advance

C. the bottom line

D. None of the above

Foss and Littlejohn taught that the theory was based on the economic proposition that we make decisions based on costs and rewards. If the orientation stage appears to be rewarding to two people, they will progress to the next stage. No. 4 is A.

Editor’s Note: Don R. Vaughan, Ph.D., is the pastor of Mt. Vernon Baptist Church near Eupora and is on the faculty of East Mississippi Community College, Golden Triangle Campus. Contact him at