In 1997 psychologist Arthur Aron and a team of colleagues published the results of a study designed to look at interpersonal closeness. In the experiment, the team was successful at making two strangers fall in love. How did he do it you ask? The experiment was quite straightforward. Two heterosexual participants (who were also strangers) entered a lab. One was male, one was female. They were required to sit across from one another and answer a series of 36 personal questions, which started out almost playful, eventually becoming quite penetrating, among them were questions like:
Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?
What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?
How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?
Tell your partner something that you like about them already.
Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why?
What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?
After responding to the series of questions, the participants were required to look silently into one another’s eyes for a period of four minutes. Throughout the experiment, gradually increasing levels of vulnerability created a bond between the participants at an accelerated rate. A kind of deliberate & expedited intimacy was achieved almost immediately as a result of this vulnerability.
The surprising outcome of the experiment? The two participants fell in love and were married six months later.
Biological components inclusive of such chemical powerhouses as hormones and pheromones are, of course, requisite elements in the process of falling in love. Nonetheless, the study demonstrates that it is possible to generate strong feelings between individuals, simply by making them communicate with one another on a deeply personal level. That is definitely nothing to scoff at! This study suggests that we can decide to care about others and consequently create the right conditions for trust, intimacy, and vulnerability, setting the stage for friendship and even love.
The implications are powerful.
At the mundane level, it’s easy to see that getting to know people around us can help create community and compassion fairly quickly and easily given a bit of effort. However, if you are looking at the bigger picture, it seems that with very little in common and the right amount of attention and effort, humans are capable of caring for anyone. This optimistic research bodes well for the potential of creating a more peaceful and compassionate society.
If you want to try for yourself, check out the free mobile app, designed by the NY Times in consultation with Arthur Aron (lead author of the study). Visit nytimes.com/36q it will tak about 50 minuted to complete.