The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness


Aron, Merinat, Aron, et al., (1997) have conducted three studies study where heterosexual couples were examined for parameter that creates and increases closeness. The research was carried for 45 minutes and couples were asked to ask questions and respond to queries on self disclosures and relation building tasks that increased in intensity. Result in study 1, showed higher post interaction closeness with these tasks as compared to small talk tasks. The other two studies did not find any significant closeness effects even when couples were matched for non disagreement on important attitudes, if pairs were led to look for mutual liking and if getting close was the main goal of the study.

The study is interesting since it examines variables that explain reasons for couples getting close. This is an important aspect in psychology since earlier studies used various degrees and levels of closeness to ensure this feeling. However, these studies, the circumstances that bring people close are must considered. This study presents an experimental setting where parings of individuals in the relationship and circumstances that lead to these relationships are considered as independent variable that can be manipulated. The study is important since it considered elements of the process that was developed to induce closeness under controlled conditions and show by its suitability for testing with co-relational data.

The phenomenon being studied is the elements and reasons that lead to closeness and a sustained close relationship among people that is sustained, reciprocal, escalating, made of self disclosure, and personalitistic. The phenomenon was to understand the process of self disclosure between strangers. Care was taken to ensure that selected pairs did not differ about attitudinal issues that were important to each person, and an expectation was created that each partner would like the other.

The method used is based on the acquaintance paradigm and while this method is used since many decades, the present research strongly and actively engaged the participants in the interactions. The goal was to develop a temporary feeling of closeness and not to develop or experiment with an actual relation. A feeling of interconnectedness was developed where intimacy is considered as a person expressing the innermost feeling and care for the partner’s feelings. The study evaluated the degree and extent of closeness brought by each of the requirements implemented in the test. Closeness generating procedure has three sets of questions were prepared with set 1  having 12 questions, set 2 having 12 questions, set 3 having 12 questions, giving a total of 36 questions. Small talk condition had 36 questions spread across three sets. Detailed methods of the three studies are discussed as follows. Scores were calculated for closeness composite, closeness condition and small talk condition, and test of ANOVA were used, The conclusion is that closeness is not realized by placing a couple together in a structured interaction for 45 min, and closeness or lack of it would take a much longer time of knowing each other.

Study 1 examined the importance to develop closeness of the nature of tasks that were rated in the procedure. The study manipulated nature of tasks as an independent variable and examined the use of considering theoretical issues and on adult attachment and issues that act on adult attachment. Importance was given on difference among attachment styles in closeness that was realized before and after the interactions. The study has 17 attitude questions and an attachment measure and these questions examined the attitudes and behaviors, disagreements about what habit would make a person more undesirable as a relationship partner, A 7-point Likert scale was used to rate the answers.

Study 2 focused on the importance of generating closeness for two more conditions and these are matching in a pair for non disagreement on attitudes, and leading respondent to expect mutual liking. Results indicate that matching for not disagreeing on important attitudes and making made respondent believe that they would like each other did not have any impact on closeness or on mutual attraction. Study 3 evaluated the impact of making closeness as an explicit task. Results indicate that interaction with cross sex against same gender pairing did not have any significance. A follow up showed that 57% had at least one more interaction, 35% had done something together and 37% sat together in the class. The study concludes that it is difficult to assert if real closeness was developed.

The authors interpreted the results to show that the best way to get close to a partner is to share and for the other to share. Overall the study can help to understand how relationships are formed in the world and what variables can be considered for developing close relations.


Ahearn (2016) asks if we can train ourselves to fall in love. Directed mainly at millennial, and these are people born after 2000, the question seems relevant considering the difficulty that these group of people have in adjusting and accepting each people as life mates and more than 42% fear that they will never find love. The author has used the experiments conducted by Aron, Merinat, Aron, et al., (1997) who posed a set of questions to heterosexual couples who were asked questions about compatibility and the manner in which they would find of someone is the right person to get married.

The press has focused in certain specific aspects of the research while ignoring the others. The article has attempted to trivialize and make it appear as if the research was a past time, like one of the many online surveys that one comes across. The articles focused on issues such as finding compatibility and vulnerability and the author assumes that the answers, even if they are contrived would make the person feel that the other is compatible. Some areas that the article spoke of accurately are the type of tests, and the attempt to find closeness. Many of the questions mentioned in the article are edited, twisted, and modified to create a romantic impression. 

Several exaggerations and inaccuracies are evident in the article. Three studies were conducted and the total number of questions was 72 and not 36 as reported. The article has exaggerated and misinterpreted the findings since Aron et al., (1997) never said that they have found the reasons to explain why people come close. As per the article, the study has played the role of a matchmaker, while in reality; the test could not if closeness is formed. Ahearn (2016) further states that chemicals such as Dopamine and Oxytoxine can increase empathy and bonding. The research article does not mention that any types of chemicals. Ahearn (2016) has missed out reporting the type of tests, the three groups of questions, and the interpretation.

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Popular press has a bias and agenda and wants to suggest that falling in love is an immediate thing that can occur in 45 minutes. The article is biased in reporting that intimacy and closeness are formed due to the release of chemicals in the brain. While the use of chemicals was suggested by another researcher, by including these stories in the main article, the author is trying to propagate a popular myth. Authors of the research article indicate that it may take a number of interactions before intimacy is developed.

The article would have been accurate and acceptable if the objectives, overview of the three studies, data analysis and assessment were reported without any bias. It would have been more acceptable if it was not turned into a piece of romantic fiction.

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  1. Ahearn, M. (2016). Can You Really Train Your Brain To Fall In Love? The Science Behind Building Intimacy In Your Relationship. Bustle. Retrieved from
  2. Aron, A., Merinat, E., Aron, E. N., Vallone, R. D., and Bator, R. J. (1997). The experimental generation of interpersonal closeness: A procedure and some preliminary findings. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 23 (4), pp. 363-377.
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