36 questions

36 questions

Can 36 questions really make you fall in love with anyone? This is the most common question when people hear about Arthur Aron’s experiments in generating interpersonal closeness – and the answer might surprise you.

Aron’s experiments date back to 1997, when he published the paper “The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness”.  He and his colleagues had wanted to find out if they could create the right conditions, even in a laboratory setting, where strangers could quickly bond and form close friendships.

People who volunteered for the experiment were paired up and given a list of 36 questions that they were asked to discuss for an hour “in a kind of sharing game”.  Even before the sixty minutes were up those taking part were saying that they already felt unusually close to their partner in the exercise.  So strong was the bond they developed that six months later one pair of volunteers had got married.

You can find a copy of the 36 questions by clicking on this link – 36 questions.  They take about forty five minutes to an hour to discuss and they almost always help the two people involved feel closer to and more positive about the other person, and want to spend more time with them.

They start off fairly simply, asking who your fantasy dinner guest would be, and naming three things that you have in common with your partner.  The 36 questions are in three sets of twelve, and as you continue they become progressively revealing, asking about topics from your most terrible memory, your relationship with your mother, and if there is anything you would regret not having told someone if you died that night.  If it sounds intimidating it’s worth trying it and persevering because after getting through all 36 questions you have a very real chance of forging a permanently deeper relationship with your partner.

The 36 questions and tasks involved, such as telling your partner your life story in as much detail as possible in only four minutes, and then actively listening to them, can change things between you.  It is a period of what Aron and the other authors of the paper describe as “”sustained, escalating, reciprocal, personal self-disclosure” that fosters the rapid development of close relationships.

What strikes many people as intimidating as well is the final instruction – to stare into each other’s eyes, without speaking, for four minutes at the end of the exercise.  Once again persevere (and resist any self-conscious giggling) and you may well be surprised at the effects.

If you feel that you already know your partner really well then read this post on the illusion of insight, and how a film from 1921 shows that your confidence is very likely misplaced.

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