Love has been boiled down to a formula by a mathematician and a psychologist according to Hannah Fry, from the UCL Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis in London.
Hannah Fry recently released a book entitled “The Mathematics of Love”. She also explained the “equation of love” in a 2014 TED Talk. According to her, the best predictor of long-lasting relationships is the level of positivity and negativity a couple exerts on one another.
In her book, she mentions the work of psychologist John Gottman and colleagues who observed hundreds of couples, recording their heart rates, facial expressions, blood pressure, skin conductivity and the words they use to address each other. Their results show that low-risk couples engage in more positive interactions while high-risk ones do the opposite.
“In relationships where both partners consider themselves as happy, bad behaviour is dismissed as unusual”, explains Fry. “In negative relationships, however, the situation is reversed. Bad behaviour is considered the norm.”
The former would entail couples making excuses for each other such that they do not blame each other. For instance, a wife might interpret her husband’s grumpiness as the result of a bad night’s sleep. However, the second type would dismiss her partner’s grumpiness to be “typical”, or “selfish”.
Gottman also worked with mathematician James Murray to determine how these bubbles of negativity come to be. They then formulated the following equation which is meant to predict how positive or negative a couple will be at the next point in their interaction:-
The top equation is the wife’s, and the other is the husband’s. It solves for how positive or negative the next thing they say will turn out to be.
w = her/his mood in general
rwWt = her/his mood when she’s/he’s with her/his husband/wife
IHW = how the husband’s/wife’s actions influence her/him
Furthermore, the researchers discovered that the most important aspect is the influence a couple has on each other. If they behave in a positive manner, they will receive positive reactions, and vice versa.
Also, the ‘negativity threshold’ represents the point when the wife grows so frustrated by her partner that she reacts negatively.
“The most successful relationships are the ones with a really low negativity threshold,” writes Fry. “In those relationships, couples allow each other to complain, and work together to constantly repair the tiny issues between them. In such a case, couples don’t bottle up their feelings, and little things don’t end up being blown completely out of proportion.”
As such, happy couples speak more positive words to each other, and more likely to give each other the benefit of the doubt and to have good thoughts of one another.
“Mathematics leaves us with a positive message for our relationships,” Fry says, “reinforcing the age-old wisdom that you really shouldn’t let the sun go down on your anger.”