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Anjuly Mathai
Anjuly Mathai


Choosing to love


Can you scientifically recreate love in a lab?

It is an intriguing question, isn’t it? And we might have never come to know the answer if an American psychologist called Dr Arthur Aron hadn’t kissed his future wife Elaine Spaulding in the summer of 1967 and experienced a sensation so profound that he decided to investigate into the mysteries of love and attraction.

If you were stuck in an island with a man, would you fall in love with him? Or if both of you bonded over your mutual fear of flying in an airplane experiencing turbulence, would love blossom? Aron decided to carry out an experiment in which he devised 36 questions which couples would have to answer in a laboratory setting. The questions would come in three sets of 12 each and grow increasingly intimate. By the end of it, you would be baring your soul to a partner you hardly knew. After answering the questions, you have to stare into the other person’s eyes for four minutes, as if to coagulate all those feelings of love that are brewing in you. The sense of closeness generated in the lab might or might not last. Here is a sample of some of the questions:

Would you like to be famous? In what way?

Is there something you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?

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?

Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common?

What is the one thing you’d like to ask a fortune-teller?

I’ve always wondered what it would be like to eliminate small talk when you meet someone new. Instead of asking the predictable questions like where they’re from and what they do, what would happen if I asked them who they last had a crush on. Or what was their first impression of you? It would be interesting, wouldn’t it? 

What I found fascinating about Aron’s study is the idea that love might not be something that happens to you, but rather something that you can make happen. Everyone thinks that revealing your innermost self is a corollary of knowing someone intimately. But, what if it was the other way around? What if you could reveal your innermost self and then let intimacy follow?

“It’s astounding, really, to hear what someone admires in you,” writes a woman in The New York Times, who tried out the experiment with a university acquaintance. “I don’t know why we don’t go around thoughtfully complimenting one another all the time.” 

In case you’re wondering, yes, the woman did fall in love with the acquaintance. “Love didn’t happen to us,” she writes. “We’re in love because we each made the choice to be.”

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