A scientific formula for a successful relationship?

Wouldn’t it be dandy if there was a scientific formula which predicted how long a relationship would last? We wouldn’t have to rely on the advice of buddies, astrologers, and agony aunts. Most importantly we would have a leg up before investing time, money, and energy into one of the most important decisions of our lives.

Recently, a high-profile research paper published in Psychological Science suggested that the best predictor of how long a relationships lasts is a parameter known is Language Style Matching or LSM. USA Today published a short description of this innovative approach:

The kind of language style the researchers focused on was the use of such words as personal pronouns (I, his, their); articles (a, the); prepositions (in, under), and adverbs (very, rather) — the types of words most people don’t give much thought to.

“You are four times more likely to match and probably go on a date if your language style matching is even just above average”…

Earlier in the year, a blogger at The Economist commented on LSM too:

A drop in the LSM score can mean a relationship is going down the tubes, though not necessarily; for instance, one year Freud and Jung’s LSM score dropped when they were still on good terms, which the researchers think may have been because Jung was ill and stressed that year.

Okay, so this is heavy-duty stuff. So I decided to investigate a bit more.

It turns out that there are two research papers which describe LSM  in writing and how the algorithm “predicts relationship initiation and stability“. What I really wanted was to put it to the test before reading more about the algorithm or the claims made in the media. Fortunately, the authors created an online application which you use to check the Language Style Matching of two people in order to predict how successful their relationship will be.

Once you enter your words in the interaction and then the other person’s words, you will get a number back that assesses the degree to which the two of you match. This number, called a language style matching, or LSM score, ranges from about .50 to 1.00. The closer you are to 1.00, the more in synch the two of you are.

Other studies have found that the LSM score is associated with how long a relationship lasts and its overall quality.

It sounded good to me. In theory, it is plausible that two people engaged in a conversation who use a similar structure in their language might be more likely to have a successful relationship. Or even the opposite: two people in a long-term relationship might be more likely to share similar language structure. Or whatever. Psychology isn’t a discipline always known for giving two hoots about trifling matters such as correlation not being equal to causation.

But I digress. What better way to test the predictive power of LSM than to examine the writing of two people in a relationship who very much love each other?

In other words, me and me.

Or put another way, I decided to test a random sample of my own writing to see if my relationship with myself might be predicted to last my own lifetime. For the examination, I took the text from the most popular post on this blog and compared it to the one I wrote less than a week later. I then compared the popular post to the first chapter of my PhD thesis. Next, I compared two posts which I had deliberately written in the same flippant style here. Finally, I compared the text of an editorial I wrote on the lung cancer genome last year to a business task force recommendation I wrote the same week.

And what did I find?

When I checked how my relationship with myself was going based on my different writing styles I got back Language Style Matching numbers for each pair which always varied from 0.69 to 0.71. So what does this LSM mean?

According to the website:

Compared to other general writing samples that we have analyzed, your LSM score is within the average range. To give you an idea, most LSM scores for general writing samples range between .60 and .90, with the average being around .78. The more the authors of the two samples are thinking in similar ways, the higher the LSM.

So, in other words, the matching between two different samples of my writing is less than the average for two different random people. But in my case, for the single test I ran with writing in what I thought was in the same style, I got the same result which was also lower than for two random people.

Apparently, I don’t even think like myself.

Now, I understand the problem in examining different types of writing for different purposes. And I see a broader use for this application which might even result in better informed outcomes for hapless folks such as mangliks which does  not involve tree marriage.

But excuse me if I’m not totally sold on this yet.

Will you get the same results that I did? Will I get the same results again with other samples of writing? Or do I suffer from multiple personality disorder in which one me absolutely hates another me?

I don’t know. But for now, I’m sticking to reading coffee grinds. They may not predict how much I love myself, but I certainly feel better after drinking the Turkish brew at the top of the cup.

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6 thoughts on “A scientific formula for a successful relationship?

  1. Extremely interesting! I see a couple of pitfalls, though:

    The way we write is very different from the way we talk. Talking is a lot more spontaneous than writing, during which we take time to formulate our thoughts into well structured sentences, and we backspace and edit many sentences before we’re through with them. The added amount of attention and time we give to writing probably also allows the writer to keep in the mind the audience that’s going to read his writing, and he will therefore alter the words accordingly. Additionally, even speech is not 100% reliable, because our speech is highly affected by our environment (business or casual), by our emotions (angry or calm), and many other factors. To make a proper comparison, you would have to take samples of speech from when the environment and the emotions of the two (or one) persons involved are the same.

    By the way, how many samples did you compare, and how many times? Because if you consistently got a score of between 0.69 and 0.71, then I’m impressed, if not with the accuracy, then at least the precision to which you’re getting the score.

    Finally, a personal point of view. The more likely it is that 2 persons’ speech will match, the more likely it is that they like the same cultural nuances. If I like Chandler from FRIENDS, I’m likely to try and imitate him. Similarly, so is someone else. So, basically, if the LSM matches, it seems like an indirect way of saying that you like (or are influenced by) the same cultural influences. This is not necessarily an accurate prediction, because people (can) change. And then the whole thing goes to hell.

  2. There is also a Happytherium in the annals of Bong children’s nonsense literature. You may or may not have heard of Bimal Datta who used to write in that genre for মৌচাক (I think) well before my time. Some of his short stories were published in a collection titled Singkhuror Galpa in the early to mid fifties. I was given a copy when, as a child of 6 or 7, I was a prisoner at home having had contracted jaundiced. I still have the tattered copy by my bedside rack along with the annotated Alice and the Hunting of the Snark and, of course, some Sukumar pieces. Take it from me, Datta was easily one cut above Sukumar as a story teller. The Happytherium story, I found to my surprise, was written at least five years before Hensoram. He didn’t have either the family collection or the literary backing and, hence, has been consigned to oblivion. I was drawn to your tweeter by your network name; there wouldn’t be many who would catch the allusion.

    • Ooops… too many typos in the reply above. I can spot two outright.
      Line 5 from top: read ‘jaundice’ i.p.o. ‘jaundiced’.
      Line 3 from bottom: read ‘connection’ i.p.o. ‘collection’.
      Edit over.

      • Don’t worry about the typos. That is a brilliant observation. I had no clue about Happytherium. I will search for it since I in Bengal for another two weeks or so.

        Many thanks for reading and commenting.
        Anirban

  3. Address to Sir General India – Seasons in island Lanka
    Date: Saturday, 20th August 2011

    A proposal to address the climate @ the Bay of Bengal for the sustainability of the food networks -
    Commermerating the 150th Birthday of Rabindranath Tagore @ the dateline in the Pacific ——- *

    A proposal to focus the rainfall and the cyclone in the months September – October @ the Bay of Bengal to sustain the food networks and to realise the seasonal cropping for the food networks in the tropics of the indian subcontinent and in the tropics of island Lanka.
    The teams to address these set of issues are to be compatible for the crop:water requirements pertinent to the types of seasonal crops considered for the seasonal cropping in the tropics of the indian sub continent and the tropics of island Lanka.
    This is an address to the climate, the ecology and the eco balance relevant to the seasonal cropping. The grain cultures are the priorities for the food networks and the rice cultures in the tropics is the staple diet and the crop: water is addressed for the hydrophylic – irrigated rice cultures.
    Commermerating the 150th Birthday of Rabindranath Tagore, the noble poet from Bengal.
    Thank you
    Kalaranji Maheswaran
    Freelance Research and Development for the systems and its organization
    Signed on Saturday, 20th August 2011

  4. Pingback: Do you have a healthy relationship? - Do You Woo?

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