Self-Disclosure in Close Friendships:

The Case of Japanese Students and the Role of Rational Mobility


Self-disclosure (jp.:jiko kaij 自己開示) refers to the sharing of information about the self, including one’s thoughts, opinions, experiences, etc. It is a fundamental aspect of interpersonal relationships and its role in the development and maintenance of friendships is undisputed in psychology. In recent years, scholars of self-disclosure have tried to use societal-level factors to explain differences inself-disclosure instead of relying simply on personality traits. The present research is based on one of these attempts and expands it both in terms of methodology and theory.

The Predecessor Study

It has been proposed that relational mobility – the permeability of a given social environment i.e. possibilities provided by this environment to establish new and discard existing relationships – can partially explain between- and within-culture variance in self-disclosure. The underlying assumption is that relationships in more mobile environments are less stable and that individuals try to counter this effect by creating intimacy through self-disclosure. Indeed, it has been found that Japanese students’ self-disclosure in close friendships is greater when they perceive their own environment to be high in relational mobility and that this effect is mediated by students’ motivation to strengthen their relationships through disclosure (Schugetal 2010).

Discussion & Conclusion

Lack of support for predecessor study

Neither the effect of relational mobility on self-disclosure nor the mediation effect of disclosure motivation were supported in this study. In view of the methodological improvements, and the fact that self-disclosure is found to increase with trust in relationship stability in some cases, these results indicate that greater relational mobility is not perceived as a threat for close friendships which has to be compensated through self-disclosure.

Unexpected gender-differences

The study produced the unexpected result that male student’s self-disclosure was greater than that of their female colleagues both in same-gender and different-gender friendships. This finding is in stark contrast to previous research, which usually finds women’s self-disclosure to be greater. This is indication for changing patterns of self-disclosure among Japanese students. As lower self-disclosure of men is generally explained by traditional gender roles which require men to appear somewhat self-contained and unemotional, it is possible that this is a symptom of changing gender roles in communication among Japanese youths altogether.


  • No direct link was found between relational mobility and self-disclosure. The only significant finding (in female same-gender friendships) was not robust across both measures of self-disclosure.
  • Accordingly, there was mediation effect as proposed in the predecessor study – despite a robust positive effect of disclosure-motivation on students’ disclosing behavior.
  • Subjective closeness had a positive effecton self-disclosure in both same- and different-gender friendships. The influence of trust in relationship stability was less robust, but when ever it is found, greater trust increased self-disclosure.
  • Male student’s self-disclosure was greater than that of their female colleagues in same-gender and especially in different-gender friendships.This is true also for emotional matters.

Aims of the Present Study

Due to theoretical and methodological limitations of the predecessor study, the present project puts these prior findings to the test. Greater sample size (about 5 times) and additional variables allow for better analysis. Furthermore, gender of discloser and disclosure target are taken into account. The research questions are:

  • Does relational mobility serve to explain the degree of self-disclosure in Japanese students’ close friendships?
  • Is this relationship mediated by the motivation to self-disclose?
  • Are there any gender-differences in this respect?

Method & Data

The data was collected at apublic university in Tōkyō Prefecture in May and June 2015. 617 questionnaires were distributed of which 479 were returneds ufficiently completed for analysis, amounting to a response rate of 77.6 percent. Methodological improvements included the utilization of two separate measures of self-disclosure as well as a measure of trust in relationship stability.