BY Nick Jankel

Author, Leadership Futurist, Philosopher, Transformation Catalyst

In her New York Times Modern Love piece, Mandy Len Catron refers to a 1997 study run by psychologist Arthur Aron that explored whether two strangers could be encouraged to fall in love.

How? The pairs sat close together, shared answers to a series of increasingly-probing questions, and made eye contact for two to four minutes.

The idea is that vulnerability fosters intimacy, as eloquently described by couples therapist Esther Perel. Aron’s study put forth that a key pattern in developing close relationships is “sustained, escalating, reciprocal, personal self-disclosure.” A slipping of the mask, to paraphrase Tom Stoppard.

Catron tried the list of questions out with an acquaintance (now boyfriend!) in a bar. “We all have a narrative of ourselves that we offer up to strangers and acquaintances,” she writes, “but Dr. Aron’s questions make it impossible to rely on that narrative.”

While they start rather Proustian (whom would you want as a dinner guest, what do you value most in a friendship), the 36 questions become increasingly personal. They aim to build connection by focusing on areas of commonality; and trust by exchanging intimacies such as embarrassing moments, how you feel about your mother, and the open-ended ‘I wish I had someone with whom I could share…’


Aron’s study concluded that while loyalty and commitment take time to develop, participants reported feeling more intensely attracted to each other at the end of the experiment than a control group, with one pair eventually marrying.

So shelve the small talk and give it a whirl! Just be careful on whom you wield your new weapons of intimate inquiry and intense gaze. This stuff is potent.