Self- disclosure = the revealing of personal information about oneself to another

The concept believes we reveal more personal information to people we like and in turn we like people who reveal more personal information about themselves to us. Self-disclosure generally happens only when sufficient trust has been established so that individuals are relatively certain such information will not be revealed to others as a source of embarrassment.

Altman & Taylor (1973) believe relationships develop through gradual increases in the breadth and depth of self-disclosed information between individuals. They see dis-closure of personal information by others as rewarding, as it signals their liking of us and their desire to be more intimate with us. This fits in with the idea of social exchange, where individuals are more attracted to those who provide them with rewarding outcomes.

Ajzen (1977) sees self-disclosure more as a product of information processing, where liking someone comes from having positive perceptions of a person. Therefore people who self-disclose personal information to us are seen favourably as likeable, trustworthy and kind.

However, self-disclosure is not always seen as rewarding or as leading to having positive perceptions of those doing the disclosing and a number of factors have been identified that influence the relationships between disclosure and attraction.

  1. Appropriateness of the disclosure – sometimes disclosing personal information is inappropriate, for example doing so on a first date may be viewed as ‘over the top’, indicating a person is maladjusted and lacking in social skills. Social norms (expected ways of behavior) seem to exist as to what information is okay to reveal and in what situations / at which times. More attractive people will be sensitive to these norms.
  2. Attributions for the disclosure – the reasons we believe a person is self-disclosing to us are important. Less attraction occurs if an individual is seen as the kind of person who discloses personal information to everyone, or is someone self-disclosing because the situation is seen as lending itself to self-disclosure. However, more attraction occurs if we believe an individual sees us as someone they especially want to disclose intimate information to.
  3. Gender differences – women generally are seen as better communicators of and more interested in intimate information, therefore intimate self-disclosures by males may be seen as less appropriate than those by females. Alternatively, self-disclosure by a male may be seen as very rewarding by a female, as it indicates he especially wants to disclose personal information to her. Males, meanwhile, may not be used to and thus feel threatened by females self-disclosing intimate details to them.
  4. Content of the disclosure – although generally intimate disclosures are seen favourably, disclosure of highly intimate information may be seen as inappropriate and as violating social norms, especially if a relationship is in its early stages. This could decrease attraction, as the recipient of the information may feel threatened and unsure of how to respond. Therefore attraction is generally weaker when self-disclosure is of low intimacy or high intimacy and stronger when self-disclosure is of moderate intimacy.


Altman & Taylor (1973) reported that disclosing personal information in the initial stages of a relationship, such as at first encounter, was inappropriate and did not enhance attraction, as it suggested the disclosing person was maladjusted and less likeable.  This was supported by Derlega & Grzelak (1979), who found that individuals who violated social rules by revealing over-intimate personal information were viewed unfavorably. 

Kleinke (1979) found that individuals who were perceived as being selective about who they disclosed personal information to were seen as more attractive, as the recipients of the information felt specially chosen, supporting the idea that attribution for disclosure is an important factor in self disclosure. This was supported by Wortman et al (1976), who reported that when individuals believed they had been specially selected for intimate disclosure, they felt trusted and admired and thus rated the person disclosing favorably.

Collins & Miller (1994) performed a meta- analysis to find that individuals who gave intimate self-disclosure are more attractive than those who give less intimate self-disclosures and that people disclose more to those they are attracted to. Individuals also had increased attraction to those they self-disclosed to, supporting the importance of self-disclosure as a factor affecting attraction. 


  • Much of the research into self-disclosure does not distinguish between friendship/ companionship and romantic relationships, making it difficult to assess the role of self-disclosure solely in romantic relationships. Also research that does focus on romantic relationships often does not distinguish between different types, for example relationships that are high in passion, high in intimacy, high in commitment, etc. It may be that self-disclosure makes people more attractive mainly in relationships higher in intimacy.
  • It is unlikely that attractiveness of a potential partner would be reliant purely on the level/ type of self-disclosure that an individual makes. More likely is that self-disclosure would interact with other considerations, such as level of physical attractiveness, similarity of interests/ attitudes etc.
  • An important factor in whether self-disclosure increases the attractiveness of potential partners is that of personality. Individuals who self-disclosure intimate information about what is seen as their normal level of disclosure may be viewed as attractive, as it would be more rewarding to the recipient, who would view themselves as having been especially selected to receive such information. The personality of recipients may be important too; different individuals would have different needs for levels of intimacy in relationships and this would affect how attractive they would find intimate self-disclosures.