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Ratio for a good life exposed as 'nonsense'

Highly touted measure of emotional health criticized as math disaster

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5:19pm, August 12, 2013

FLUID HAPPINESS  Edward Lorenz was studying fluid dynamics 50 years ago when he developed a set of equations that, when graphed, trace out an oscillating pattern that is extremely sensitive to small perturbations. The equations, which became a foundation of chaos theory, were improperly applied in 2005 to research on happiness.

A 52-year-old, part-time graduate student with no previous training in psychology and little math education beyond high school has knocked a celebrated measure of the emotional mix needed to live well off its mathematical pedestal.

Nicholas Brown, who is completing a master’s degree in applied positive psychology at the University of East London in England, teamed up with two colleagues to demolish the math at the heart of a widely cited October 2005 American Psychologist paper that claimed to identify the precise ratio of positive to negative emotions that enables life success. The researchers’ takedown of what’s known as the critical positivity ratio appears July 15 in American Psychologist.

“It’s slightly worrying to discover that a leading journal could publish an article with so many obvious errors in it,” Brown says.

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