There are 36 questions which can spark friendship or love.
I discovered the 36 questions which can kick-start a friendship or relationship in an episode of “The Big Bang Theory” called “The Intimacy Accelerator”. One of the characters in the show, Amy, shares that she read an article about how people can create intimacy in an accelerated time frame.
Two other characters, Penny and Sheldon, decide to give it a try. At the end of the experiment they both decide that they feel closer to each other. Here’s part of the exchange between Penny and Sheldon:
I came across the 36 questions once again while researching an article that I’m writing on friendship. Shasta Nelson is a nationally recognized friendship expert and the CEO of GirlFriendCircles.com, a women’s friendship matching site. She’s also the author of two books on friendship. Nelson uses a variation of the 36 questions in her friendship workshops. She calls them “Sharing Questions”. Nelson explains that when women sit down together and answer these questions it brings them much closer than simply engaging in small talk or trying to look for common interests. This makes it much more likely that they’ll become friends.
Since it was the second time I had seen a reference to these questions, I decided to conduct some additional research to find out more about them.
The 36 Questions Came From a Lab Experiment
The 36 questions are the brain child of psychologist Arthur Aron, who runs the “Interpersonal Relationships Lab” at SUNY-Stony Brook. He published them in 1997 as part of a study titled “The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness“.
The study revealed the results of an experiment Aron conducted to test his theory that he could develop closeness between a pair of people by having them ask each other questions designed to slowly build and establish intimacy.
The 36 questions are divided into three sets. Each set of questions gets progressively more personal. This is how Aron refers to this progression: “sustained, escalating, reciprocal, personalistic self-disclosure.”
Aron argues that vulnerability is what creates closeness between people, and the questions are designed to make two people be progressively more vulnerable with each other.
As you saw in “The Big Bang Theory” clip above, one of the first questions is “What’s your perfect day?”, which is innocuous enough. However, the questions get more probing. One of the last questions is “How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?”, which definitely enters into the “sharing personal information” realm.
Here’s how Mandy Len Catron–who wrote a New York Times article about her experiment with the 36 questions–describes this slow progression from easy questions to highly personal questions:
“The questions reminded me of the infamous boiling frog experiment in which the frog doesn’t feel the water getting hotter until it’s too late,” she wrote. “With us, because the level of vulnerability increased gradually, I didn’t notice we had entered intimate territory until we were already there, a process that can typically take weeks or months.”
There Are Many Uses For the 36 Questions
The 36 questions can be used in various settings:
- To create intimacy with a romantic interest and increase the chances that you’ll hit it off.
- To make new friends.
- To accelerate the bonding process with people you need to get to know and trust quickly –a task force at work, participants in a seminar, during college orientation, and so on.
- To deepen your ties with people you already know well —friends, family members, and even long-term partners.
- To have fun with friends at parties and have people get to know each other better.
The Process to Follow With the 36 Questions
Here’s the process you should follow with the 36 questions:
- Sit down with the person you want to create intimacy or closeness with (this has to be done face to face).
- You can print out the questions (which you’ll find below), visit this website, use this app, or get these cards.
- One person reads the first question aloud. Then, both people take turns answering the question.
- Swap roles for the next question.
- Continue in this way until you get to the last question (make sure you go through the questions in order).
- If the person you’re with is a romantic interest, once you’ve answered all of the questions set a timer for four minutes and use that time to simply look into each others’ eyes (you can blink, but don’t look away).
- Take as long as you want, but the whole process of asking and answering the 36 questions normally takes about 45 minutes, to an hour.
Keep in mind that the process is as much about how you answer the questions, as it is about how you listen and respond to the other person when they answer the questions.
The List of 36 Questions
Here are the 36 questions:
1. Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom 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 are going to say? Why?
4. What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?
5. When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?
6. If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain 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 will die?
8. Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.
9. For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
10. If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
11. Take four 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 that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?
15. What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?
16. What do you value most in a friendship?
17. What is your most treasured memory?
18. What is your most terrible memory?
19. If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? 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 most other people’s?
24. How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?
25. Make three true “we” statements each. For instance, “We are both in this room feeling … “
26. Complete this sentence: “I wish I had someone with whom I could share … “
27. If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for him or her to know.
28. 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.
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 that you like about them 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 them 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 he or she might handle it. Also, ask your partner to reflect back to you how you seem to be feeling about the problem you have chosen.
If you want to see a man and a woman who have never met before asking each other these questions, here’s a video for you:
Live your best life by getting closer to others.
- Know Thyself! Use the Proust Questionnaire
- Five Ways to Make Friends and Get Along With Others
- How to Be Happy
- 75 Simple Pleasures – Enjoy the Little Things