PHOTO CREDIT: STONY BROOK UNIVERSITY
Arthur Aron, PhD., above, tested 36 questions to form close relationships between Stony Brook students 10 years ago. PHOTO CREDIT: STONY BROOK UNIVERSITY

Every other week, junior biology major Ruchi Shah will take a look at Stony Brook-related science and research news.

36 questions in 45 minutes turn complete strangers into close friends or even a married couple. To most, this idea sounds unbelievable.

But the use of the 36 questions, carefully crafted by a team of scientists led by Arthur Aron, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Stony Brook University, have consistently resulted in the formation of close relationships in both the lab and in real-life settings.

“At the end of the 45 minutes, people feel almost as close to this person as the closest person in their life,” Aron said.

The key to the 36 questions is a gradual increase in the personal nature of the questions.

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“We looked at research about how closeness spontaneously develops among friends,” Aron said. “We found the typical pattern is that you disclose personal info both ways and gradually increasing—that was the main thing we based it on.”

The questions are divided into three levels, with the first level being more superficial and the third level containing the most probing questions.

The goal in creating the questions, Aron explained, was to create feelings of closeness quickly by accelerating the process that people normally go through in forming relationships.

According to the research of Aron and other psychologists, it is important for people to feel that they have things in common with their partner in order to create a feeling of closeness.

“Having things in common is only moderately important, but thinking you have them in common matters a lot,” Aron said.

In order to facilitate the perception of commonality, a question in tier one is to name three things that the pair appears to have in common.

“Another thing that plays a huge role in developing friendships and closeness is feeling the other person likes you,” Aron said.

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In tier two, the pair is prompted to “alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner. Share a total of
five items.”

The participants are further prompted to express why they like their partner in tier three with the questions, “Tell your partner what you like about them; be very honest this time, saying things that you might not say to someone you’ve just met,” and “Tell your partner something that you like about them already.”

The three main elements, the gradually increasing degree of the personal nature of the questions, the feeling of commonality and the feeling that each partner likes the other, are the reason why the questions are effective in forming close relationships.

Since the time when Aron and his team formed the questions, scientists have found data to suggest that a key to forming relationships is responsiveness. Therefore, the questions will only be effective in creating feelings of closeness if each partner actively responds to the other.

To test the effectiveness of the questions, Aron and his team implemented the questions into freshman seminar classes at Stony Brook University 10 years ago.

Not only did the questions foster close relationships, but those paired with a cross-race partner showed more positive attitudes towards the race of that partner, Aron said.

“If you have friend in another group, you are more likely to be more positive towards that group because in a way you are connected to them,” Aron said. “We have a theory that you include the other in yourself.”

Aron spoke about the possibility of using these questions to create friendship and ease social and racial tensions.

“We are going to not only publish the results, but we are going to put a free online website up that tells any university how they can do this with their incoming class, and I think it’s be a good thing for companies to use too,” Aron said.

His most recent research focuses on bringing together two dating couples who do not know the other couple to answer the 36 questions.

“We found that when two couples do this as a foursome, not only do they feel closer to the other couple, but they get closer to their own partner and it even increases passionate love,” Aron said.

When two couples of different races were brought together, there was an even bigger improvement in feeling towards the other group than when two individuals of different races were paired together.

“This is in part because it’s a more comfortable situation,” Aron said.  “You have the support of someone else, you have in common that you are both couples, so it’s easier to get closer than if its just two individuals.”

Aron is currently working to better understand how initial attraction between two people turns into a relationship.

“We know a huge amount of what makes for initial attraction between people and a huge amount about what makes for a good relationship, but we know almost nothing about how we go from initial attraction to being in a relationship,” Aron said. “It’s a really hard thing to study but its really important.”

His most recent research focuses on bringing together two dating couples who do not know the other couple to answer the 36 questions.

“We found that when two couples do this as a foursome, not only do they feel closer to the other couple, but they get closer to their own partner and it even increases passionate love.”

When two couples of different races were brought together, there was an even bigger improvement in feeling towards the other group than when two individuals of different races were paired together.

“This is in part because it’s a more comfortable situation,” Aron said.  “You have the support of someone else, you have in common that you are both couples, so it’s easier to get closer than if its just two individuals.”

Aron is currently working to better understand how initial attraction between two people turns into a relationship.

“We know a huge amount of what makes for initial attraction between people and a huge amount about what makes for a good relationship, but we know almost nothing about how we go from initial attraction to being in a relationship,” Aron said. “It’s a really hard thing to study but its really important.”

His most recent research focuses on bringing together two dating couples who do not know the other couple to answer the 36 questions.

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