Wellness Tip: Deep Questions to Ask Loved Ones

In the 2015 essay for The New York Times, “To Fall in Love with Anyone, Do This,” Mandy Len Catron wrote about a study psychologist Dr. Arthur Aron had conducted at Stony Brook University 20 years earlier. 

Aron wanted to explore whether it was possible to create feelings of closeness between people who didn’t know each other. To do so, he asked pairs of strangers to sit in his lab and talk to each other for 45 minutes — some made casual small talk while others were given a set of 36 questions to ask each other, questions that grew more and more personal as the list went on. 

By the end of the session, two of the strangers who’d asked each other deep questions had fallen in love. Six months later, they got married and invited everyone from the lab to the wedding.

Catron took the 36 questions from Aron’s experiment on a first date to try them out herself, and her experiment worked – she and her date fell in love. But this isn’t just a story about romance, she cautions: “It’s about what it means to bother to know someone, which is really a story about what it means to be known.”

Here are the first five of Aron’s questions to start asking your loved ones to get to know them, and yourself, even better. 

1. Given the choice of anyone in the world, who 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?

If you’re talking with a partner, take turns answering each question, alternating who answers first each time. Make eye contact as you answer. Remember to be honest, even if it makes you feel nervous or vulnerable.

Additionally, be an active listener —  there’s no point in asking deep questions if you zone out during the answers. Push your conversations further by asking follow-up questions and challenging basic assumptions, including: 

  • Why do you think that?
  • Have you always felt this way?
  • What caused you to change your mind?

You don’t need to replicate a landmark psychological study to get into the habit of asking deep questions. Next time you find yourself engaging in small talk about work or weather, switch gears and ask your companions something more meaningful.

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