Equations of Love

There are plenty of books, apps, self-help guides, and “gurus” who claim they can help you find your true love. However, can science help us find “the one”? Are there reasons for the saying “opposites attract”? Science has even investigated whether or not smell plays a part in finding love. What else have we investigated and discovered about relationships?

In a World full of apps and vast amounts of options, wouldn’t it be nice if there were clearer outlines as to how we find “the one”. Here we’ll see some of the things science has taught us about finding love. We’ve researched everything from anthropology to psychology and biology to maths; there are so many factors to consider.

Let’s start with maths: predicting patterns. Dr Hannah Fry (an amazing woman in STEM) did a TEDx talk detailing the mathematics of love, and had three top tips: (1) How to win at online dating. The online dating site, OkCupid, was started by a group of mathematicians and has collected data from its users for roughly a decade. From this data, they looked for patterns about how we talk about ourselves online amongst other things. The most surprising finding was that not only did being attractive not make you more popular on the site, but being thought to be “ugly” was advantageous. For example, there are many people who everyone believes are very attractive (e.g. Angelina Jolie), and there are others who divide opinion (e.g. Sarah Jessica Parker). It is the people who divide opinion who fair better on these sites in terms of popularity, because fewer people are in competition for their affections. Therefore, you should always play up your differences!identity.png

(2) How to pick the perfect partner. Here we use the optimal stopping theorem, which suggests you reject everyone in your first 37% of your dating life and you then pick the next person who comes onto the scene who is better than those before. This is mathematically the best chance for you to find “the one”. Obviously, this is not a fool proof method! Strangely though, there are actually fish species that follow this exact method.

Finally, (3) how to avoid divorce. Psychologist, John Gottman, recorded hundreds of couples talking, their facial expressions, skin conductivity, heart rate, etc.; you name it, he recorded it. The final outcome relied on how positive or negative the person was being during the conversation. With his findings, Gottman and his group could predict if a couple would get divorced with 90% accuracy. They then worked with mathematician, James Murray, to research further into the causes of “negativity spirals” in conversations. The equations they used calculated how positive or negative the partner’s response would be, based on a few variables, but most importantly, the influence their partner had on them. Interestingly, these equations can also perfectly demonstrate what happens between two countries in an arms race… The study found that couples that allowed each other room to complain and compromise actually scored better. Never go to sleep angry!angrysleep.png

What about our senses? As well as looks, we are all attracted via our ears and nose too, as research has found that a voice and smell are just as important to us. The review looked at 30 years of research. A voice can reveal more than age and gender, it can also detail dominance, cooperativeness, emotional state and even body size; the same goes for smell. We are subconsciously, chemically attracted to our other halves’ smell. Unlike other animals that smell pheromones, humans use an olfactory system to detect the smells we are attracted to. Part of the theory of our odour attraction is linked to immune systems; we are not enthralled by our partner’s smell, but their immune system. Researchers found a gene linked to sexual attraction was also one involved in the immune system. Some studies have investigated whether we are attracted to the smell of other’s, whose immune system differs from our own (i.e. evolutionarily advantageous), but didn’t find this true for everyone in the group.smell.png

There are so many scientific factors that influence our decisions subliminally. Overall, finding “the one” will always feel more complicated and difficult than an equation, but realistically nature has rules to which most of us stick, without even realising. Don’t rush it, be you, stop reading horoscopes, and science will do the rest.

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