The Loh Down On Science

Why a theory about positive thinking that seems right is really wrong

Science can teach us a lot, but what happens when it's wrong?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science, re-examining the good life!  Through math!

A 2005 psychology paper famously reported a simple formula for better living.  The researchers plugged emotion data from volunteers into equations borrowed from physics.  And came up with a simple rule:  Look on the bright side!  This was measurable by something called the positivity ratio.

Here's the idea.  If a person's positive feelings outnumber their negative feelings by at least three times—but less than 12 times—they'll flourish!  So keep your chin up!  But not too far up.

Easy, right?  But to Nicholas Brown, a graduate student in England, it sounded suspicious.  He recently led an effort to re-crunch the numbers—and found the researchers applied those math equations inappropriately.  And made a slew of mathematical mistakes.

Translation:  The positivity ratio means nothing.  Boo hoo.  On the bright side, it also means science WORKS when researchers check each other's work. Yay!

A positive thought!  Not that it will do us much good.  Try chocolate.

***** For more 90-SECOND SCIENCE FACTS, click here.*****

The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, in partnership with the University of California, Irvine, and 89.3 KPCC. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

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