Finding the square-root of relationships

Published 3:47 pm Monday, February 16, 2004

By Staff
Arthur McLean Managing Editor
In the wake of all this Valentine's Day stuff, scientists have now come out with a mathematical model that can predict whether couples will wind up divorcing. I'm sure we're all relieved.
The eggheads at the University of Washington in Seattle, Wa. decided they could score conversations between couples to see whether or not they were able to get along and solve problems together.
Over the past 10 years, they've studied the conversations of 700 couples, tracking their conversations when considering sticky issues like money. Certain things scored points with the researchers and certain things lost points for the couples.
They've tracked these couples and now say they have a formula that is 94 percent accurate in predicting whether or not a couple will have staying power.
If we wait long enough, science will solve all our problems – or take the romance, mystery, beauty and wonder right out of everything.
My problem with all of this is the judging part. I remember back during my college days reading a study that said "Gilligan's Island" was the most violent show on television during its time. Say what?
Yes, white-smocked lab monkeys decided that every time a coconut fell on someone's head, or the skipper fanned Gilligan with his hat, that was an act of violence. It's been a while since I've seen the show, but I seem to remember a lot of coconuts falling and skipper hats flying.
Now you see why I might have a small problem with this judging of couples' conversations. It's the researchers.
I'm not going to try to perpetuate the stereotype that researchers are a bunch of non-social nerds with very little experience in the realm of social interaction, but I'm not going shoot it down either.
It's a bit like the three-time divorcee writing a relationship advice book. Actually, that might have more credibility with me since the author presumably has a little experience with what not to do.
They claim the formula is 94 percent accurate so far. Maybe it will become the next great equation of our time. Move over e=mc2 here comes verbs + adjectives/facial expressions = X.
Somehow I doubt it.
Who did the judging anyway? And who's to say a different panel of judges won't come out with a completely different result? Did they have an East German judge? Did someone bribe the French judge?
Maybe couples should all walk around with a panel of judges reviewing them whenever they have important conversations. Let's see how long those marriages last.
Scientists continually try to break us down into mathematical probabilities and statistics. Regretfully, they've done a fair enough job of it to gain some credibility.
Thankfully, there are just too many people out there who wind up defying the odds, formulas and expectations for these little equations to ever be all that accurate. And to me, that's a very very good thing – 94 percent of the time.
Arthur McLean is the Managing Editor of the Atmore Advance. He can be reached by calling 368-2123 or by email:

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox