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A core variable in the thriving study of the social psychology of close relationships is whether a subject is in such a relationship. So far, researchers have compared those in and not in close relationships, or those in relationships that are close to various degrees, using measures of degree of closeness (e.g., Aron, Aron, & Smollan, 1992; Berscheid, Snyder, & Omoto, 1989). But in all of these approaches, the existence of a close relationship, the characteristics of its members, or the circumstances under which the relationship developed are not subject to experimental manipulation.
This article presents a practical methodology for creating closeness in an experimental context, so that whether or not a subject is in a relationship, the particular pairings of individuals in the relationship, and the circumstances under which the relationship develops all become manipulated independent variables. That is, we have tried to make being in a relationship accessible to laboratory study and experimental manipulation in the same way as the minimal group paradigm, mood induction procedures, or self-esteem-lowering methods have opened up previously impractical research horizons. The studies reported here examined the elements of the procedure we have developed for inducing closeness under controlled conditions and illustrated its applicability for testing theoretical issues that previously could be treated only with correlational data.
One key pattern associated with the development of a close relationship among peers is sustained, escalating, reciprocal, personalistic self-disclosure (e.g., Altman & Taylor, 1973; Berg & Clark, 1986; Collins & Miller, 1994; Derlega, Metts, Petronio, & Margulis, 1993; Dindia & Allen, 1995). The core of the method we developed was to structure such self-disclosure between strangers. We also incorporated two other well-substantiated findings in the attraction and relationship literature: (a) We matched individuals so they did not disagree about attitudinal issues of importance to them (e.g., Byrne, 1971; Rosenbaum, 1986) and (b) we created the expectation that each subject's partner would like him or her (e.g., Aron, Dutton, Aron, & Iverson, 1989). Finally, following the model used in other research areas (e.g., memory, perception), we made becoming close an explicit task. The studies reported here systematically address the usefulness of each of these key elements of the procedure (nature of the task, nondisagreement, expectation of mutual liking, and making closeness an explicit task).
The procedure we developed was to some extent inspired by what Collins and Miller (1994) call the acquaintance paradigm in the substantial body of experimental research on self-disclosure conducted mainly in the 1970s and 1980s. However, the present procedure clearly goes well beyond what was done in that line of research--which, of course, was not intended for the present purpose. Even in those few studies in which the partner was not a confederate, the procedures were typically brief, did not strongly engage the participant in an ongoing interaction, and did not involve the other aspects of our tasks. (Although these differences in procedure between our method and the acquaintance paradigm studies do not guarantee greater closeness as a result of our method, such a difference seems reasonable.)
We should also emphasize that the goal of our procedure was to develop a temporary feeling of closeness, not an actual ongoing relationship. This feeling we would associate with the Arons' (Aron et al., 1992; Aron, Aron, Tudor, & Nelson, 1991) definition of closeness as "including other in the self"--an interconnectedness of self and other. This feeling of interconnectedness is similar to what some researchers call intimacy. For example, Reis and Shaver (1988) emphasize that intimacy is a process in which each feels his or her innermost self validated, understood, and cared for by the other; McAdams's (1988) summary of the intimacy literature argued that most definitions of intimacy "converge on the central idea of sharing that which is inmost with others" (p. 18). There are other meanings of closeness, such as Berscheid et al.'s (1989) definition that emphasizes behavioral interaction--amount of time together, shared activities, and mutual influence. Indeed, Aron et al. (1992) found that various measures of closeness have two latent dimensions of behaving close and feeling close. The former included the Berscheid et al. measures; the latter, a subjective measure of how close one feels to the partner and Sternberg's (1988) Intimacy Scale. (A measure based directly on including other in the self loaded on both dimensions.) Whereas behaving close in this sense could not really arise outside of a long-term ongoing relationship, it seemed to us that the subjective feeling of closeness, which is our focus, might well arise at least temporarily in a short-term interaction.
In the initial version of our procedure as we have developed it (Aron, Aron, Melinat, & Vallone, 1991), cross-sex stranger pairs carried out a series of self-disclosure and relationship-building tasks over a 1 1/2-hr period while alone together in a comfortable room. Encouraged by high postexperiment ratings of closeness and anecdotal reports of the impact of the experience over the next few months (including one pair who married!), we adapted this task so that it could be carried out in a classroom situation, over a 45-min period, and with either same- or cross-sex pairings. In this way the procedure could be used more practically by researchers and with large numbers. Our initial results with this approach were also very promising.(1)
The present studies examined the utility of this approach as a research tool for exploring important questions in the area of close relationships. Thus these studies examined both the degree of closeness attained through this procedure and the relative importance for generating closeness of each of the conditions implemented in the procedure: whether the tasks involve self-disclosure and other intimacy-associated behaviors (Study 1); whether partners are matched for not disagreeing on important attitudinal issues and whether subjects expect their partners to like them (Study 2); and whether becoming close is an explicit goal (Study 3). In addition, to illustrate the potential of the procedure, we have applied it in a preliminary way to theoretical issues difficult to address with the usual correlational methods in the areas of adult attachment (Studies 1 and 2) and introversion/ extraversion (Study 3).
Study 1 focused on the importance for generating closeness of the nature of the tasks we have incorporated into the procedure (escalating, reciprocal, personalistic self-disclosure, and intimacy-associated behaviors). That is, in this study we manipulated the nature of the tasks as an independent variable.
In addition, we attempted to illustrate the usefulness of the procedure for addressing theoretical issues, focusing on adult attachment (Hazan & Shaver, 1987). For this aspect of the research, we combined data from Studies 1 and 2 to have a sufficient N for the kinds of analyses needed (we describe results of these analyses with Study 2). Thus, in both Studies 1 and 2, we matched subjects into specific attachment-style combinations and included some additional postinteraction measures. The focus was on differences among attachment styles in closeness achieved and in change from before to after the interaction in reported attachment style. We selected these issues because they show key advantages of using the closeness-generating procedure; previous work on these issues has been correlational in that who pairs with whom and whether the subject is in a relationship at all at the time of the study are entrenched confounding variables in that research. (Of course, even using our paradigm, subjects' own initial attachment style remains a nonmanipulated variable.)
The experiment was conducted during a regular class session of a large psychology course, 5 weeks into the term. The study was announced 2 weeks in advance, and those willing to participate (nearly all present) completed initial questionnaires at that time. When students arrived on the day of the experiment, they were placed into the predetermined pairings and seated together at a moderate distance from other pairs. Each pair then carried out a series of self-disclosure and relationship-building tasks over a 45-min period. Finally, subjects were separated and individually completed postinteraction questionnaires.
Announcement and recruitment of subjects. The announcement explained that on a particular day the class would be devoted to a demonstration of experimental methods that would also be part of an ongoing research program on "interpersonal closeness." The main part of the announcement was as follows:
You will be paired with another person in this class whom
you don't know. (We will match you, based on the
questionnaire [you are about to complete], with someone
we think will like you and whom you will like.)
During the first hour of class on this day you and the
person we have paired you with will do a series of
activities (such as talking about particular topics) designed
to help you get close.
Students were not required to participate, and no record was made available to the instructor of who did and did not. About 80% of the students enrolled in the class completed the initial questionnaire; of these, about 90% came on the day of the study and took part. (These percentages were approximately the same in all three studies.)
Initial questionnaire. The initial questionnaire included a consent form, a brief written description of the project (restating the oral announcement), demographic items, an item asking subjects to list all other students they know in the class, 17 attitude questions, and an attachment-style measure. The attitude questions assessed attitudes and behaviors disagreement about which would make a person undesirable as a relationship partner (e.g., "Students should dress in conventional ways" and "I smoke"). The items were created based on results of an open-ended questionnaire on this theme administered to a separate sample at the same university. For each item, subjects indicated both their agreement-disagreement and how important-unimportant the issue was to them, using separate 7-point Likert-type scales. The attachment-style measure was a version of Hazan and Shaver's (1987) forced-choice attachment-style question, modified by Bartholomew and Horowitz (1991) for their fourfold classification. Subjects read a paragraph describing each style and then (a) selected the style most applicable to themselves and (b) rated how much each style applied to them on a 7-point scale.
Matching procedure and subjects. The matching procedure involved several steps and was quite elaborate and complex. The result was the random assignment of individuals to pairs and of pairs to conditions within constraints of sex and attachment style, all counterbalanced across conditions, attachment-style pairings, and cross-sex versus all-women pairings. In addition, subjects who knew each other, as indicated by having listed the other's first name on the initial questionnaire, were not matched. Also, subjects who disagreed on any item that either had rated as very important were not matched. (See Study 2 for more details on the matching for nondisagreement.) As in most psychology courses at this university, about 70% of the students were women. Thus we decided to use only cross-sex and all-women pairings (our preliminary studies had found no differences between all-women and all-men pairing(2) but had found differences between cross-sex and game-sex pairings). We randomly assigned the women into two …