What if someone told you that, in under an hour, you and a complete stranger could become best friends, or maybe even fall in love?
Well, in a study published nearly twenty years ago, social psychologist Arthur Aron and his team performed an experiment to see if they could do just that. Their goal was to generate trust and intimacy among paired participants in a laboratory setting — and it worked.
The experiment — which took place when people still used landlines — is garnering renewed interest, amid a society that increasingly values digital connections over interpersonal bonds.
In January, The New York Times published a piece by Mandy Len Catron called “To Fall in Love with Anyone, Do This.” Catron claims that, with the help of Aron’s methods, she and an acquaintance made the conscious choice to be in love.
Although Catron doesn’t believe Aron’s study is entirely responsible for her and her partner’s mutual eros, she does credit it with giving them “a way into a relationship that feels deliberate.”
The questions reminded me of the infamous boiling frog experiment in which the frog doesn’t feel the water getting hotter until it’s too late. With us, because the level of vulnerability increased gradually, I didn’t notice we had entered intimate territory until we were already there…
-Mandy Len Catron
Doctor Aron’s method consists of two parts. First, two participants ask each other a series of thirty-six questions, split into three sets of twelve, of an increasingly personal nature.
The first set starts with relatively innocuous questions — for instance, “Would you like to be famous? In what way?” — that gradually demand more revealing information. Set two is even more risque. Question twenty-four, the last in the set, wants to know, “How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?” By the time you get to set three, things get pretty intense. Question thirty-five asks, “Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why?”
Then, as if learning a person’s deepest secrets hadn’t already induced enough intimacy, the participants are asked to look each other in the eyes, without saying anything, for four whole minutes.
SoulPancake was kind enough to recreate part two of the experiment by asking six couples, each in a different stage of intimacy, to stare into their partner’s eyes for an uncomfortable period of time.