Comment »Posted on Sunday 14 February 2010 at 9:10 pm by Jacob Aron
In Mathematics, Psychology, Weekly Roundup

Valentine’s love poetry brings a hot rush of blood to the cheeks

I wrote this piece for the Guardian as part of their Valentine’s Day coverage:

Steamy love poems are always popular around Valentine’s Day, but can a few lines of tender verse really make people hot under the collar? Researchers at Aberystwyth University attempted to find out earlier this week, using thermal imaging cameras to take the temperature of volunteers reading the work of Romantic poets.

The experiment is a collaboration between the arts and the sciences, led by poet Richard Marggraf Turley from the Department of English and Creative Writing and Reyer Zwiggelaar from Computer Science. They asked six volunteers from each department to silently read 12 love poems, while a slightly less amorous text about thermal imaging served as a control. As the participants pored over poems, including Bright Star by John Keats and To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell (both are reproduced in full below), thermal cameras monitored their faces for any change in temperature that could reveal their true feelings.

Read the rest at the Guardian.

A “new” formula for marriage? Not quite

A number of news outlets have run stories on a formula for finding your “Optimal Proposal Age”, based on a press release from the University of New South Wales. Far from being a new result, it’s actually a repackaging of an old mathematical puzzle known by a variety of names, including the marriage problem.

Imagine you’ve decided to search for the perfect partner by going on 100 blind dates. After each date you decide whether you want to marry the potential suitor, and if you choose not too you can never see them again. Contrived, but then this is a maths puzzle!

How do you pick your partner? If you wait until the end of all 100 dates, you’ll be stuck with whoever is on the end of the list, whether you like them or not, but if just go for the first person you like then you could be missing out on someone who is a better match. It turns out that the best strategy is to see the first 37 potentials, then pick the next one who is better than those 37. Not the most romantic approach, but at least it makes for a quirky Valentine’s Day news story I suppose.

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