Can you create a sense of closeness or intimacy with a complete stranger? Psychology research says, yes, you can.
More than 20 years ago, a team of psychology researchers led by psychologist Arthur Aron (1997) conducted an experiment that demonstrated that you could create a sense of closeness or intimacy with another person simply by asking and answering a set of 36 questions together.
But was the closeness produced in the experimental condition the same as the real closeness we feel with long-time partners and friends?
The researchers report that the closeness produced in these studies was similar to the “real closeness” we feel in our everyday relationships.
But this closeness isn’t the same as closeness or intimacy gained through time and shared experiences alone — it lacks key components of what typically define closeness or intimacy in a relationship.
The 36 questions call for self-disclosure and other intimacy-associated behaviors — they’re designed to increase intimacy with the other individual.
There are three sets of questions, and each set has 12 questions. The intensity of the questions gradually increases, both within sets of questions and over the three sets.
In the original experiment, the participants were asked to spend only about 15 minutes on each set of questions. But you can spend as much, or as little, time as you’d like.
It’s recommended that you and your partner take turns reading each question aloud to one another, with both people answering the posed question.
1. Given the choice of anyone in the world, who would you want as a dinner guest?
2. Would you like to be famous? In what way?
3. Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you’re going to say? Why?
4. What would be a “perfect” day for you?
5. When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?
6. If you’re able to live to the age of 90 and can keep either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?
7. Do you have a secret hunch about how you’ll die?
8. Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.
9. What do you feel most grateful for in your life?
10. If you could change one thing about the way you were raised, what would it be?
11. Take 4 minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible.
12. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?
13. If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future, or anything else, what would you want to know?
14. Is there something you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Have you done it? If not, why?
15. What’s your greatest accomplishment?
16. What do you value most in a friendship?
17. What’s your most treasured memory?
18. What’s your most terrible memory?
19. If you knew that in 1 year you’d die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you’re living now? Why?
20. What does friendship mean to you?
21. What roles do love and affection play in your life?
22. Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner. Share a total of five items.
23. How close and warm is your family? Do you feel your childhood was happier than others?
24. How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?
25. Make three true “we” statements each. For example, “We’re both in this room feeling … “
26. Complete this sentence: “I wish I had someone who I could share … “
27. If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for them to know.
28. Tell your partner what you like about them. Try to be honest, saying things you might not say to someone you’ve just met.
29. Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life.
30. When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?
31. Tell your partner something you like about him or her already.
32. What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?
33. If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven’t you told that person yet?
34. Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?
35. Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why?
36. Share a personal problem and ask your partner’s advice on how they might handle it. Then, ask them to reflect back to you how you seem to be feeling about the problem you’ve chosen.
Building a close relationship with another person isn’t easy. It takes time and hard work to get to know someone intimately — and you may still not know everything about them.
Psychologist Arthur Aaron, together with others in his field, supposes that asking a certain set of psychological questions can help build the same closeness in a relationship within a few minutes that’s often only felt by spending time with that person.
But while you may learn some things about your partner with these questions, it can’t match the closeness and intimacy that’s built over years.