Podcast: behavioural economist searches for the formulae of love


Searching for the maths behind love sounds like a pretty ambitious project, but that is exactly what economics professor Gigi Foster is trying to do.

“At the moment, I’m working on a paper modelling the dynamics of love in a mathematical form,” UNSW associate professor explains to Elaine Ung from the Behavioural Economics Team of the Australian Government, in the agency’s latest podcast.

“So, [that involves] generating phase diagrams to explore basically what happens when certain ingredients are fit into a model where we think it’s a reasonably good map of what actually happens within a person when they’re falling in love, which is not entirely a conscious process, so you have to incorporate some elements that are outside the control of the individual,” explains Foster (pictured above).

“What ingredients then are necessary to sustain love? What might threaten it? All of these things from a mathematical perspective, which allows us to get more tractability.”

Foster is also looking at household income and workforce data to test the proposition that certain “norms in society” influence women to make choices that lead to them earning less than half of household income.

“I’m really excited about optimal histories, and the idea here is that history is really just—it’s a fabrication: it’s a collection, a selected collection of things that may have happened, and every nation has an option about how to try to push the construction of its history that’s fed to its citizens,” she adds.

“What we want, of course, as economists, is again maximum welfare, so how to build a history that actually maximises welfare.

“The most pro-social providing kind of stories of what this group and that group that have come together now in the one country, how they’ve interacted in the past, how they might go forward in the future.

“This is something that is very sensitive, but I see it’s very fundamental to the kind of interventions that economists could be advising upon for governments to do because governments have all sorts of levers related to how to construct their histories from education systems through to national days.”

Listen to the podcast below:

BETA is hosting this year’s Behavioural Exchange conference in Sydney in June.

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