Forcing Love in a Small University

Are the 36 Questions to Fall in Love Still Relevant?

The 36 Questions have had extraordinary influence over the past years. It’s one of the key studies all psychologists interested in relationships must know. It’s also popular among the average population. However, though it’s such a widely-known study, many argue that it’s not as widely-applicable as it should be.

“The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness: A Procedure and Some Preliminary Findings,” by Arthur Aron, Edward Melinat, Elaine N. Aron, Robert Darrin Valone, Renee J. Bator is my primary point of reference for this topic. This was an influential study because it was quite good – and it was cutting-edge. It asked a question that continues to intrigue psychologists: What makes people feel close?

They tried to answer this question by trying to create closeness in the lab.

The first issue with this study is its relationship with the demographic in which it studies. In the study, the subjects are college students. Colleges, we understand, come in different shapes, atmospheres, and social structures. Some large campuses create a much different social structure than smaller universities. The article by Aron et. al uses a larger university. Students, therefore, most likely had more classes with strangers and being close to someone might have different connotations than those spending their formative young-adult years in a close-knit community.

Take Millikin University, for example: at just around 1500 students, it’s likely that a popular person might know close to everyone on the campus. It’s so small that students often call the campus “high school 2.0.” Even the smallest bit of drama or gossip can shift the social structure of a relatively high amount of people. Those who go to Millikin, or universities like this one, will more than likely bring a different mentality to the table.

This form of closeness, which some could say is even “artificial,” may not be appealing to members of a small university compared to a larger university. I suspect this because every time I began a discussion about the study at Millikin University, more often than not, the average person did not want to get emotionally attached to someone.

Most of the times, their current social status shaped their reactions. Either they were in a relationship, they were happy being single, they had recently gone through a breakup, or were going through relationship problems; all seemed to make people not want to participate in the study.

The reason behind this, most likely, is that most students don’t want to be close to anyone, especially when there is so much pressure to remain guarded against unnecessary closeness. This raises questions about the relevancy of this article because, after all, this study was made over 20 years ago. Since then, societies have changed, and we’re only just beginning to learn about the new generation of college students.

This hints at a subtle downfall of the study: the lack of consideration of the present social influence. The researchers could have asked what sort of relationship/romantic expectations exist at this university that could alter the data.

More than likely, though, if the 36 questions were successful, the subjects would have discussed their problems and lives within their social sphere at the university, not just their life with their family.

It would have been tricky to measure this aspect, because how could the researchers accurately study the various situations of each individual in the study? How could they respect that privacy?

Of course, the study itself actually pointed out that it’s the private details – the personal situations, the feelings, the problems – that generate the most closeness.

Something they also did right was explain how extroversion and introversion affected the results of the study. They did this, as well, with “avoidant” behavior. Their findings, in short, explained that extroverts got closer to their partners and introverts kept their partners more at arms-length. Extrovert/Introverts pairs also got closer when they didn’t realize that getting close to their partner was their goal.

This was, quite possibly, their most convincing finding. Extroverts and Introverts exist at all universities and all walks of life. The fact that they became close just by learning about the other’s life almost trumps all other findings—almost.

Extroversion and introversion, many understand, is not a static and definite description of a human’s personality. There are also people who identify as somewhere in the middle or “amberverted.” Extroversion or introversion can vary with age and stage of life. It varies depending on mood, comfortability, and several other factors.

Though the study may have its limitations, it did what any good study does: it raised more questions. What actually is the impact our environment has on the way we view closeness? How does two decades change these perceptions? How come this still perplexes us to this day?