Mathematical Equation Can Predict Happiness

Tags : happiness, brain, Risk
(Photo : Getty Images) Rutledge and his team maintain that the equation could be used to look at mood disorders and happiness on a mass scale.


Think you know yourself? What makes you sad, what makes you happy? You may be right. People can usually predict things kind of things about themselves. But what's usually more dependable than our own opinions? Well, science, for one.

Dr. Robb Rutledge from the University College London and his team claim they've developed a mathematical equation that can predict momentary delight.

Rutledge says, "We can look at past decisions and outcomes and predict exactly how happy you will say you are at any point in time."

"The brain is trying to figure out what you should be doing in the world to get rewards, so all the decisions, expectations and the outcomes are information it's using to make sure you make good decisions in the future. All of the recent expectations and rewards combine to determine your current state of happiness," he added.

To create the equation, the team analyzed the results of 26 people doing a task in which they chose between definite and risky monetary rewards. They were asked to repeat the process several times. Every few trials they were asked to report their level of happiness.

Researchers also scanned participants' brains using fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging). 

They found that participants were happiest when they performed better than expected during a risk-reward task. They also found that happiness scores correlated with areas known to be important for well-being.

Rutledge and his team maintain that the equation, published in PNAS Journal, could be used to look at mood disorders and happiness on a mass scale.

The equation was later applied to over 18,000 people who played a smartphone risk-reward game in The Great Brain Experiment app, which was recently shown to be a reliable way of studying cognitive behavior.

Rutledge says, "We were pleased to see that our equation did a good job of explaining happiness. Even over this wide range of participants, there is a surprisingly consistent relationship between rewards, expectations and happiness."

"I'm hopeful this mathematical equation lets us get a better understanding of things we all care about, like how happy we are in general," he added.

Tom Stafford, a cognitive scientist at the University of Sheffield, said the equation predicted happiness with an impressive amount of accuracy, "especially given how unpredictable humans are."

Stafford continued, "The importance of this study is the way it knits together brain activity, a computational account of reward and large-scale crowd sourcing of how people feel."

He did add, however, that it was unclear if the equation could give insight into some of the "big questions" of happiness, like which partner to choose. 



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