Success or Failure
Mathematics may not seem romantic,
but it may be useful for telling whether a marriage will end in
divorce, according to researchers at the University of Washington
in Seattle. In a study of married couples, a mathematical equation
was 94 percent accurate in predicting which ones would divorce.
"I was astonished by the accuracy
of the prediction," Dr. James D. Murray told Reuters Health in
One of the "really exciting" aspects
of the model, Murray said, is that it can be used to help couples
identify problems in their marriage.
When University of Washington psychologist
Dr. John Gottman asked Murray to develop a mathematical model
that would predict which marriages would last, Murray thought
the idea was "totally ridiculous." But once he started working
on the model, Murray said, "I got totally hooked."
The aim was to come up with a system
that would quantify the interaction and communication between
a married couple, Murray explained.
He and his colleagues viewed 15-minute
videotaped conversations of couples talking about a point of contention,
such as sex or money. The researchers scored each turn of the
For example, if a husband raised
his eyes during a conversation, several points were deducted.
But if a spouse did something positive, such as using humor, then
points were added, said Murray, who is an emeritus professor of
applied mathematics at the University of Washington and an emeritus
professor of mathematical biology at the University of Oxford
in the UK.
Murray and his colleagues plotted
the scores for each turn in the conversation on a graph. The result
was a sort of "cumulative Dow Jones of conversation," said Murray.
Like the stock market average,
the conversation ratings "wiggled around" over time, but if they
generally rose over time, the marriage was probably in good shape,
Murray said. But if the scores had an overall downward trend,
the prognosis for the marriage was bleaker, according to Murray.
Along with other information, such
as responses to questionnaires filled out by the couples and physiological
readings such as pulse rate, the researchers made a prediction
on whether a marriage was likely to last.
The study, which has been going
on for more than 10 years, includes more than 700 couples who
chose to enroll in the study when they applied for a marriage
So far, the mathematical model
has been 94 percent accurate in predicting which couples will
Murray and Gottman and co-author
Dr. Kristin Swanson presented the results Thursday at the annual
meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science
Murray said he hopes that the model
can be used to help couples identify problems in their relationship
that they can try to improve.
"If they don't change certain things,
the marriage is unlikely to last," he said.
Murray said that his psychologist
colleague Gottman has started using the model with married couples,
and the "counseling has been very encouraging."
Reference Source 89