By training a computers man, the then-fifty-year-old Brit was looking to beef up his people skills, and had enrolled in a part-time course in applied positive psychology at the University of East London. “Evidence-based stuff” is how the field of “positive human functioning” had been explained to him—scientific and rigorous.
So then what was this? A butterfly graph, the calling card of chaos theory mathematics, purporting to show the tipping point upon which individuals and groups “flourish” or “languish.” Not a metaphor, no poetic allusion, but an exact ratio: 2.9013 positive to 1 negative emotions. Cultivate a “positivity ratio” of greater than 2.9-to-1 and sail smoothly through life; fall below it, and sink like a stone.
The theory was well credentialed. Now cited in academic journals over 350 times, it was first put forth in a 2005 paper by Barbara Fredrickson, a luminary of the positive psychology movement, and Marcial Losada, a Chilean management consultant, and published in the American Psychologist, the flagship peer-reviewed journal of the largest organization of psychologists in the U.S.
But Brown smelled bullshit. A universal constant predicting success and fulfillment, failure and discontent? “In what world could this be true?” he wondered.
When class was over, he tapped the shoulder of a schoolmate he knew had a background in natural sciences, but the man only shrugged.
Dollars to donuts, Mr. Shrug was a Darwinist, so he was used to just believing without question as long as the thesis implies that human are simple. Maybe someone is, even now, working on a ratio for chimpanzees and gorillas … .
They had better. Read what happened when Nick blew it up for humans.
File under: Peer review, where are you?