If you are a regular browser of the internet, you may have stumbled across an article written by Mandy Len Catron which was published in the New York Times a few years ago. The article was entitled “To Fall In Love With Anyone, Do This”, and was widely circulated on social media due to its claim that it is possible to fall in love with someone by simply asking them thirty-six specified questions, and staring into their eyes in complete silence for four minutes after asking these questions.

Catron’s article was based on a psychological study carried out by Arthur Aron, and perhaps the reason the article captured attention was due to Catron’s admission that she did fall in love with the acquaintance with whom she tried Aron’s experiment.

So is there really a method of falling in love, and can this process be controlled?

Arthur Aron’s study, “The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness”, was carried out in 1997 to investigate whether there was an effective method of eliciting closeness between people. Aron’s study compared two distinct types of questions.

Questions to fall in love to

One of these distinct question sets was described as “small talk”, based on fairly basic questions which would likely be asked in most social settings. The other was based on self-disclosure and relationship building which meant that these questions were more in-depth and intense. Aron’s study found that there were greater levels of post-interaction closeness for the more intense questions in comparison with the small talk questions.

The thirty-six in-depth questions were separated into three sets of twelve questions each, increasing in intensity as the participants moved through the questions. Set 1 for example, included questions such as “Would you like to be famous? In what way?” and “What in life do you feel most grateful for?” Set 2 included “What is your most terrible memory?” and “What roles do love and affection play in your life?” Set 3 contained questions such as, “When did you last cry in front of another person?” and “Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why?”

A real life falling in love experiment

Catron’s experience of Aron’s experiment came about when she spent time with a university acquaintance. Their conversation turned to the subject of falling in love, and how it may be possible to fall in love with anyone, given a few commonalities.

Catron remembered reading about Aron’s study, and so began the process of asking Aron’s questions to her acquaintance, followed by a four-minute- long session of silently looking into the eyes of her acquaintance, a process she described as, “one of the more thrilling and terrifying experiences of my life”. Catron concluded her article by saying that she and her acquaintance did indeed fall in love.

Is falling in love really that simple?

The idea that falling in love could be this straightforward is certainly a fascinating one, but it seems likely that there is more going on here. Catron herself says that while the experiment gave her and her partner “a way into the relationship”, she concedes that she cannot entirely credit the study for the formation of her relationship, as it may well have happened without the presence of Aron’s methods.

Catron also admits that the fact that both herself and her partner wished to try the experiment showed a willingness to explore the idea that they could fall in love with each other. This willingness does seem to be important, as it would be unproductive to try to fall in love with someone you did not wish to be in love with, or indeed to be loved by.

However, Catron does say that Aron’s study left her with the belief that it is possible to generate trust and intimacy, which are vital elements to falling in love.

a couple in love
2 heart shaped balloons

Is closeness the same as falling in love?

Another important point to consider here is that Aron’s findings of relational closeness were based on the participants’ own ratings of the closeness they felt to their fellow participant, based on their own experiences of closeness in all of their other relationships.

“Close relationships” can encompass all sorts of interactions, so this could very well have led to the participants rating closeness in comparison with relationships they had with people who may not have been described as close to others.

Consequently, it is perhaps not reliable to state that all of the participants in Aron’s study were experiencing the closeness felt between a couple who are in love, but rather the participants’ opinions of what a close relationship meant to them would have been important here. We have lots of close relationships in our lives, which don’t require us to be in love.

What can we learn about falling in love?

So can falling in love really be a simple case of asking the right questions? Perhaps not. The Arthur Aron experiment and Mandy Len Catron’s experience of this experiment certainly provide us with some interesting ideas about what is involved in falling in love and developing close relationships with others.

Perhaps what we can learn from these pieces of work is how to generate the conditions in which love can thrive. Intimacy, trust, the ability to comfortably communicate, and the sharing of sensitive and sometimes difficult information about ourselves are all important if we wish to pursue true love.

So while Arthur Aron’s thirty-six questions may not lead you to falling in love, they might just allow you to learn a bit more about yourself, which perhaps is the most important aspect of being able to truly and completely fall in love with someone.

The experiment

If you’re interested in reading more, you can find Mandy Len Catron’s article here.

Written by Jennifer McElroy, The Green Rooms Psychology Assistant