Factors Influencing Self-Disclosure

Many factors influence whether or not you disclose, what you disclose, and to whom you disclose. Among the most important factors are who you are, your culture, your gender, who your listeners are, and your topic and channel.

Who You Are Highly sociable and extroverted people self-disclose more than those who are less sociable and more introverted. People who are comfortable communicating also self-disclose more than those who are apprehensive about talking in general. Competent people engage in self-disclosure more than less competent people. Perhaps competent people have greater self-confidence and more positive things to reveal. Similarly, their self-confidence may make them more willing to risk possible negative reactions.

Your Culture Different cultures view self-disclosure differently. Some cultures view disclosing inner feelings as a weakness. Among some groups, for example, it would be considered “out of place” for a man to cry at a happy occasion such as a wedding, whereas in some Latin cultures that same display of emotion would go unnoticed. Similarly, it’s considered undesirable in Japan for workplace colleagues to reveal personal information, whereas in much of the United States it’s expected. Important similarities also exist across cultures. For example, people from Great Britain, Germany, the United States, and Puerto Rico are all more apt to disclose personal information—hobbies, interests, attitudes, and opinions on politics and religion—than information on finances, sex, personality, or interpersonal relationships. Similarly, one study showed self-disclosure patterns between American males to be virtually identical to those between Korean males.

Your Gender The popular stereotype of gender differences in self-disclosure emphasizes males’ reluctance to speak about themselves. For the most part, research supports this view; women do disclose more than men. Women disclose more than men about their previous romantic relationships, their feelings for close same-sex friends, their greatest fears, and what they don’t like about their partners. Women also increase the depth of their disclosures as a relationship becomes more intimate, whereas men seem not to change their self-disclosure levels. In addition, for women, there are fewer taboo topics. Finally, women self-disclose more to members of their extended families than men. One notable exception occurs in initial encounters. Here, men will disclose more intimate information than women, perhaps “in order to control the relationship’s development”. Still another exception may be found in a study of Americans and Argentineans; here males indicated a significantly greater willingness to self-disclose than females.
Your Listeners Self-disclosure occurs more readily in small groups than in large groups. Dyads, or groups of two people, are the most hospitable setting for self-disclosure. With one listener you can monitor your disclosures, continuing if there’s support from your listener and stopping if not. With more than one listener, such monitoring becomes difficult, because the listeners’ responses are sure to vary.
Research shows that you disclose most to people you like and to people you trust.You also come to like those to whom you disclose. At times, self-disclosure occurs more in temporary than in permanent relationships—for example, between strangers on a train or plane, in a kind of “in-flight intimacy”. In this situation two people establish an intimate, self-disclosing relationship during a brief period of travel, but they don’t pursue the connection beyond that point.
      You are more likely to disclose when the person you are with discloses. This dyadic effect (what one person does, the other person also does) probably leads you to feel more secure and reinforces your own self-disclosing behavior. Disclosures are also more intimate when they’re made in response to the disclosures of others. This dyadic effect, however, is not universal across all cultures. For example, although Americans are likely to follow the dyadic effect and reciprocate with explicit, verbal self-disclosure, Koreans aren’t. As you can appreciate, this easily results in intercultural differences; for example, an American may be insulted if his or her Korean counterpart doesn’t reciprocate with self-disclosures that are similar in depth.

Your Topic and Channel You also are more likely to disclose about some topics than others. For example, you’re more likely to self-disclose information about your job or hobbies than about your sex life or financial situation. Further, you’re more likely to disclose favorable rather than unfavorable information. Generally, the more personal and negative the topic, the less likely you are to self-disclose.
     In recent years research has addressed differences in self-disclosure depending on the channel—on whether communication is face-to-face or computer-mediated. Some researchers have pointed to a disinhibition effect that occurs in online communication; people seem less inhibited communicating by e-mail or in chat groups, for example, than in face-to-face situations. One reason may be that in online communication there is a certain degree of anonymity and invisibility. Research also finds that reciprocal self-disclosure occurs more quickly and at higher levels of intimacy online than it does in face-to-face interactions.

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