There are many different definitions that are used to define self-disclosure in the literature. Sidney Jourard originally introduced the term self-disclosure in the 1950’s (Antaki, Barnes & Leudar, 2005). Self-disclosure is defined by Jourard and Lasakow (1958) as the “process of making the self known to other person” (as cited in Chen, 1992, p. 3). Jourard presented self-disclosure as a positive thing to express, given the right situation (Antaki, Barnes & Leudar, 2005). Wheeles and Grotz (1976) described self-disclosure as a process in which people use communication to relate “self-disclosive messages” (as cited in Chen, 1992, p. 3). Hendrick (1981) and Hendrick, Hendrick & Alder (1988) describe self-disclosure as the “how willing people are to discuss information related to themselves with other people” (as cited in Kito, 2005, p. 127). Altman and Taylor (1973), Hendrick et al. (1988) and Rands (1985) all found self-disclosure to be “one of the most important factors affecting the quality of close relationships” (as cited in Kito, 2005, p. 128). Lustig and Koester (2006) define self-disclosure as the process when a person reveals “personal information about oneself and to explain one’s inner experiences and private thoughts” (Lustig & Koester, 2006, p. 280). Self-disclosing differs among cultures in terms of “breadth, depth, valence, timing and targets of self-disclosing events” (Lustig & Koester, 2006, p. 280).
The Johari Window
The Johari Window is often used to explain self-disclosing for a better understanding. Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham created the Johari Window to show the degree that people receive and distribute information (Little, 2005). It consists of a grid that demonstrates four levels of information that is shared between people (Little, 2005). The purpose of the Johari Window is to show that “two-way communication enhances interpersonal effectiveness and that when information is mutually held and freely exchanged” productivity will increase (Little, 2005, p. 4).
The first region, known as the “open”, refers to information that is known to all. This is information that is mutually shared between people (Little, 2005, p. 4). The larger the “open” region becomes, the stronger the relationships are that are forming (Little, 2005, p. 4). More self-disclosing occurs the larger this region becomes.
The second region, known as the “blind”, refers to information that is known to others, but not the self (Little, 2005, p. 4). This information is clear to everyone, but not to the actual person displaying the information. This can be things like noticing someone always chews with their mouth open, or constantly looks at the ground when you are speaking to them.
The third region, known as the “hidden”, is information known by self but not by others (Little, 2005, p. 4). When people begin to tell information that is in their “hidden” region self-disclosure occurs. The “hidden” region becomes smaller, and the “open” region begins to grow.
The last region, known as the “unknown”, is the information that is not known by self or others (Little, 2005, p. 4). This area can be discovered in groups thus adding to the “open” region, or alone which will add to the “hidden” region. Self-disclosure can happen when information is discovered in groups, or when a person discovers the information alone and then decides to share it with others.
The topics that are discussed about during self-disclosing are referred to as the breadth (Lustig & Koester, 2006, p. 280). Most of the literature has found European Americans self-disclose about a wider range of topics compared to other cultures (Lustig & Koester, 2006, p. 280). European Americans are one of the only cultures that see self-disclosure as a way to build closer relationships (Lustig & Koester, 2006).
The degree of personal information shared while self-disclosing refers to the depth (Lustig & Koester, 2006, p. 280). The depth of self-disclosing can be as superficial as “I like broccoli” (Lustig & Koester, 2006, p. 280). The depth of self-disclosing can also be very deep as “I am afraid of my father” (Lustig & Koester, 2006, p. 280). The literature has found that European Americans tend to have the highest degree of depth with self-disclosing information (Lustig & Koester, 2006, p. 282).
Whether or not self-disclosing is favorable or unfavorable refers to the valence (Lustig & Koester, 2006, p. 282). European Americans self-disclose with the most negative valence compared to other cultures (Lustig & Koester, 2006, p. 282). Asian cultures are most likely to provide positive valence self-disclosing information because of their concern with saving face (Lustig & Koester, 2006, p. 282).
When self-disclosure occurs refers to the timing (Lustig & Koester, 2006, p. 282). European Americans tend to self-disclose immediately upon meeting someone with information like their “name, hometown, employment or educational affiliations”, etc (Lustig & Koester, 2006, p. 282). People in other cultures such as Asians and Native Americans hold back on self-disclosing immediately because they see that as inappropriate behavior (Lustig & Koester, 2006, p. 282).
The people whom are receiving the self-disclosed information are referred to as the targets (Lustig & Koester, 2006, p. 282). European Americans have been found to target most of their self-disclosure towards their spouses (Lustig & Koester, 2006, p. 282). In other cultures, such as the Igbos in Nigeria, age is used to determine target. The young must self-disclose any information the elders ask of him or her (Lustig & Koester, 2006, p. 282).
There are four approaches to self-disclosure that have been investigated in the literature. The first approach identifies differences in genders. The second approach looks at self-disclosure as a “characteristic of observable messages” (Chen, 1992, p. 4). The third focuses on dimensions of self-disclosure. Finally, what this paper will focus on the most, cultural and national influences of self-disclosure (Chen, 1992, p. 4).
Individualistic and Collectivistic Cultures
Self-disclosure across cultures is often discussed in the literature with regards to whether the culture is individualistic or collectivistic. Individualistic cultures tend to be the opposite of collectivistic cultures in terms of characteristics that promote self-disclosure. Markus and Kitayama (1991) found that individualistic cultures have an independent view and collectivist cultures have an interdependent view (as cited in Kito, 2005). The independent view focuses on “expressing one’s unique attributes” (Kito, 2005, p. 129 ) While the interdependent view tries to restrain these unique attributes and maintain harmony in the community (Kito, 2005). Some individualistic cultures include European Americans and Indians while collectivistic cultures include Chinese and Japanese.
Triandis, Bontempo,Villareal, Asai, and Lucca (1988) found individualistic cultures tend to emphasize “self-reliance, competition, and the subordination of in-group goals to personal goals” (as cited in Marshall, 2008, p. 146). Adams, Anderson and Adonu (2004) found individualistic cultures see self-disclosure as an important factor used to build intimate relationships (as cited in Marshall, 2008, p. 146). Gudykunst and Matsumoto (1996) found individualistic cultures put a strong emphasis “on verbal, explicit, direct, and expressive communication styles” which allows for more open self-disclosure (as cited in Marshall, 2008, p. 146). Triandis et al. (1988) study found that individualistic cultures often belong to more in-groups allowing for risky self-disclosures to have “have fewer social consequences” because they are less likely to have rumors spread (as cited in Marshall, 2008, p. 146). Chen (1995) and Goodwin and Lee (1994) found cultures that are more individualistic exemplify more self-disclosure than collectivistic cultures (as cited in Marshall, 2008, p. 146). Since individualistic cultures hold an independent view, they emphasize the “ability to express self [and] validate internal attributes” (Kito, 2005, p. 129). All these characteristics of individualist groups lead them exude open and free self-disclosure.
European Americans are said to be more individualistic than collectivistic. Yet, in the literature, European Americans, specifically males, do not seem to fit the characteristics of individualistic self-disclosure. There are consistent contradictions of Marshall’s (2008) article when speaking of self-disclosure patterns of individualistic European American males.
Typically European American males engage in less self-disclosure because of the traditional role they are expected to fulfill (Marshall, 2008). Thompson and Pleck (1986) found men self disclose less because disclosing emotions and revealing feelings are seen as “sissy” in the American culture and men do not like to be in this negative light (as cited in Marshall, 2008, p. 145). European American’s see the ideal man as someone who is “strong and silent; he is very much of an individualist; he does not reveal feelings or emotions” (Berman & Murphy-Berman, 1988, p. 62). Weakness would be shown if the men self-disclose problems and emotions (Berman & Murphy-Berman, 1988, p. 62).
European American men may also self-disclose less because work tends to play a major role in their lives. Inferiority in the workplace would be apparent if men reveal their “failures and worries to a competitor”, therefore men refrain from self-disclosing in the workplace (Berman & Murphy-Berman, 1988, p. 62). European American men may self disclose less with others around them to avoid the title of a homosexual (Berman & Murphy-Berman, 1988, p. 62). When men touch one another and speak freely of their emotions they are more likely to have that title placed upon them (Berman & Murphy-Berman, 1988, p. 62).
Typically European American women are known to disclose more than European American men (Molina & Franco, 1986). Yet, the literature contains contradictions in regards to individualistic European women’s self-disclosure patterns. European American women may self-disclose less in some cases to fill their traditional roles as well. Jack (199) found women may self-disclose less by holding in “wishes, emotions or grievances in order to maintain harmony” in their relationships (as cited in Marshall, 2008, p. 145). Cozby (1973) has found that couples who both come from these traditional backgrounds will engage in less self-disclosing (as cited in Marshall, 2008, p. 145).
European American Speech
Speech in the European American culture is highly valued. Speech is looked at as the “principle vehicle for exchanging personal experiences and for the achievement of interpersonal relationship” (Chen, 1992, p. 16). Barlund (1975) says that discussion is important in the European American culture because it is the “primary mode of inquiry, of learning, of negotiation and of decision making” (as cited in Chen, 1992, p. 17). European Americans are more likely to self-disclose freely because they so frequently use discussion as a way to communication in everyday life.
Chen’s (1992) study examined the different types of topics and people that European people typically converse with. European Americans showed significantly high scores on six conversational topics: 1) opinion 2) interests 3) work 4) financial issues 5) personality and 5) body. The Europeans also showed high scores on the people they were willing to talk to such as parents, strangers and acquaintances (Chen, 1992, p.15). Chen’s (1992) study found European Americans report speaking about more topics to more types of people, which allows them to easily self-disclose.
India is considered to be an individualistic culture. The male figure is not as dominate in the Indian culture as he is in the European American culture (Berman & Murphy-Berman, 1988, p. 62). The ideal Indian man is seen as “social, interdependent, and emotionally expressive” (Berman & Murphy-Berman, 1988, p. 62). Overall the Indian males are very “emotionally expressive” compared to the European American male (Berman & Murphy-Berman, 1988, p. 62). Unlike the European American male, work is not the main focus of the Indian man’s life. Augustine (1982) found Indian men tend to be more family centered (as cited in Berman & Murphy-Berman, 1988, p. 62). Finally the fear of given the title of a homosexual is not a fear in the Indian man’s life. It is common for Indian men “to hold hands, maintain a very close interpersonal distance when seated, and hug each other when greeting” (Berman & Murphy-Berman, 1988, p. 62). Given the Indian male’s characteristics and typical traits, he is more likely to self disclose freely in any given situation.
Indian females share some of the same characteristics as Indian males. Indian women also like to hold hands with both sexes (Berman & Murphy-Berman, 1988). They often sit very close to people they are speaking with and finally they will always hug the person they are greeting (Berman & Murphy-Berman, 1988). Like the men, Indian women are more likely to self-disclose freely because of their characteristics and attitudes towards what is acceptable when conversating with others.
Triandis, Bontempo,Villareal, Asai, and Lucca (1988) found that in contrast collectivist cultures emphasize “interdependence, interpersonal harmony, cooperation, and the subordination of personal goals to in-group goals” (as cited in Marshall, 2008, p. 146). Collectivist cultures believe self-disclosure is not an important factor when building intimate relationships according to Adams, Anderson, and Adonu’s (2004) study (as cited in Marshall, 2008, p. 146). Dion and Dion (1993), Hsu (1985) and Ting-Toomey (1991) found less intimacy is expressed in collectivist romantic relationships because those needs are often fulfilled through “interdependent family relationships” (as cited in Marshall, 2008, p. 146). Argyle, Henderson, Bond, Iizuka, and Contarello (1986) found collectivistic cultures use “indirect, nonverbal, ambiguous, contextual, and less
expressive communication styles” that makes it much harder to self-disclose freely compared to individualistic cultures (as cited in Marshall, 2008, p. 146). Adams, Anderson, and Adonu (2004) and Hastings (2000) both found collectivists are more likely to be involved in one or two “tightly knit networks” where risky self-disclosures become the “grist for the rumor mill” (as cited in Marshall, 2008, p. 146). Chen (1995) and Goodwin and Lee (1994) found cultures that are more collectivistic demonstrate significantly less self-disclosure than individualistic cultures (as cited in Marshall, 2008, p. 146).
The Chinese culture tends to be a more collectivist culture. Therefore, Chen (1995) and Goodwin and Lee (1994) found the Chinese people tend to be less self-disclosing (Marshall, 2008, p. 146). The Chinese people are less intimate in relationships compared to people from individualistic cultures. Sue and Sue’s (1990) study found that Asian cultures are resistant to sharing feelings because they highly value privacy (as cited in Shonfeld-Ringel, 2000). Sue and Sue’s (199) study also found Asians prefer to share intimate feelings with their families and their close personal friends (as cited in Shonfeld-Ringel, 2000). Chen (1995) and Goodwin and Lee (1994) found in their studies that Chinese people report they disclose less in their personal relationships compared to “Westerners” (as cited in Marshall, 2008, p. 146).
Speaking in the Chinese culture is not considered an effective way of communicating. Actions are more important to the Chinese when forming friendships. Speaking is often seen as a foolish way of communicating and people who speak often are seen as “less knowledgeable and even dangerous” (Chen, 1992, p. 16). Therefore, the Chinese self-disclose less in their speech because they do not see speaking as the primary way of developing close relationships (Chen, 1992).
Chen’s (1992) study examined the conversational topics Chinese people most likely talk about and who the target people that Chinese people like to talk to, like the study did for the European Americans. The Chinese had extremely low scores in the six conversational topics, meaning they did not speak to their friends and significant others about the topics (Chen, 1992). The Chinese also had low scores in the target people they like to talk to such as parents, strangers and acquaintances (Chen, 1992). Chen’s (1992) study demonstrated that Chinese people are less likely to self-disclose because their use of speech is limited. The most common way to self-disclose with the use of speech, and without speech they have fewer opportunities to freely self disclose.
The Japanese people are most commonly collectivist and demonstrate behaviors that coincide. Barnlund (1975) found the Japanese are formal and cautious when it comes to expressing their opinions (as cited in Kito, 2005, p. 129). They communicate less freely and openly than the European Americans (Kito, 2005, p. 129). Ting-Toomey (1991) found that the Japanese culture is extremely connected with society and emphasize “group harmony and cohesion” (as cited in Kito, 2005, p. 129). Therefore they refrain from self-disclosing to because their individual behaviors result in group consequences (Kito, 2005). Kito’s 2005 study supported the theory that the Japanese culture self-disclose less than the European American culture. The Japanese reported less significantly less self-disclosure possibly resulting from the Japanese being more formal and the European Americans speaking about themselves more often (Kito, 2005, p. 136).
The literature reviewed much of the self-disclosure patterns in terms of individualistic and collectivistic cultures. The literature also compared each culture to the European American culture. The individualist cultures, e.g. European Americans, and Indians are more likely to self-disclose because of their cultures characteristics. The individualists are more speech oriented. The collectivist cultures such as the Chinese and Japanese are less likely to self-disclose. The collectivist cultures are less speech oriented and care about the welfare of the group.
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