In 2014 mathematician Hannah Fry gave a TED talk where she presented the following set of equations that predicts the positivity of interactions between spouses:
These equations might look like gibberish at first, but they’re actually describing a very simple set of rules for predicting how positive or negative we can expect the husband and wife to be in the next turn of their conversation.
If we take the top line, the wife’s equation, we can break down how these rules play out. The left-hand side of the equation is simply how positive or negative the wife will be in the next thing that she says. Her reaction will depend on her mood in general (w), her mood when she’s with her husband (rwWt) and, crucially, the influence that her husband’s actions will have on her: IHW(Ht).
The equation for the husband follows the same pattern.
The reasoning goes that more positive interactions will lead to a more positive marriage. Couples everywhere seemed to have a simple prescription: be more positive than negative, and you’ll have a better chance at success. Now a recent finding adds a neuroscientific element to the balance. As David Z. Hambrick and Daisuke S. Katsumata write, individuals who score high in working memory have less enduring conflict in their romantic relationships (see “How Research on Working Memory Can Improve Your Romantic Relationship”). This suggests that trying to resolve conflicts requires you to pay closer attention to what your partner is saying. And don’t forget to stay positive as much as possible. And take out the trash more often.
In perhaps more light-hearted news, neuroscientists Ryan P. Dalton and Francisco Luongo describe in this issue a fascinating experiment in which rats were taught to play hide-and-seek while the researchers monitored their brain activity (see “Play May Be a Deeper Part of Human Nature Than We Thought”). Specific neurons in the prefrontal cortex associated with reward lit up during the game, suggesting that the brain’s response to play is evolutionarily ancient. We are hardwired for fun, it seems. And that is a positive thought.
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