Love in London is as rare as finding aliens

Peter Backus, a teaching fellow of economics at the University of Warwick, has calculated that he has a 0.00034 per cent chance of finding love in the British capital using the same “Drake” equation scientists use to determine the potential number of extra-terrestrials in our galaxy.

American astronomer and astrophysicist Frank Drake devised his namesake equation in the early 1960s.

The 31-year-old Backus – who lives on a narrow boat in central London – is not even that particular about his ideal match, requiring only that she be a London-based female, aged 24-34, with a university education.

“I am not trying to be an elitist or anything,” he said about his educational requirements. “Everyone has preferences. I just think we would have more in common.”

Further reducing his chances, he has estimated he would be physically attracted to just five percent of the women meeting all these criteria.

This means there are about 10,500 women in Britain who tick all the boxes for Backus, he said – just above the 10,000 potential communicative civilizations that could exist in the Milky Way according to the Drake equation.

So just 0.14 per cent of Londoners and 0.017 per cent of the British population meet Backus’s own requirements, he said.

But a relationship takes two.

If this economist’s dream women are equally as fussy as he is, his chances of finding someone who will return his affections plummets to just 0.00034 per cent, he said.

“There are 26 women in the UK with whom I might have a wonderful relationship. So, on a given night out in London there is a 0.00034 per cent chance of meeting one of these special people,” he said.

“That’s a 1 in 285,000 chance. Not great.”

But love can still defy the odds right on your doorstep. Since writing his paper on the equations of finding love, Backus has started dating his neighbor Rose. She meets his age requirement, has a university degree and also lives on a boat.


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Taming your anger

For most of us, anger rises and falls relatively quickly – disappearing altogether for long periods, before perhaps returning with momentary vengeance. But for some people, it’s never far from the surface and can result in frequent physical and verbal outbursts that wreak untold havoc.

Media headlines regularly holler about out-of-control politicians and athletes letting their fury get the better of them. Then there are reports of high-profile people receiving counselling on how to put the not-so-friendly genie back in the bottle.

For these reasons, managing the anger that disrupts lives has become a small industry and researchers in Australia and around the world are employing everything from chilli sauce to magnetic resonance images (MRIs) to determine the mechanisms behind anger and, where necessary, how to control it.

So when does part of the normal emotional spectrum become a problem? And what can be done to stop it causing physical and emotional damage?

Health effects

Typically, anger arouses the central nervous system, triggering symptoms similar to the ‘fight or flight’ response in the amygdala region of the brain. When you get angry your blood pressure, heart rate and breathing rate all increase; your digestion slows; and you start to sweat.

There is already some evidence that people who experience these anger symptoms regularly may be doing long-term damage to their heart and other organs.

In particular, a US study found one in every 40 heart attacks can be linked to a recent incidence of anger. As well, a 2004 international study linked family conflict and work stress – both common sources of anger – to an increased risk of heart attack.

The bottom line is that learning how to manage anger may not only improve your quality of life, it may also extend it.

But there are many other ways to short-circuit anger’s effects.

At the University of New South Wales, where MRIs have been used to map the pathways of anger in the brain, research suggests simple distraction can be an effective tool.

UNSW researcher and psychologist Dr Tom Denson believes distracting yourself works better than trying to analyse what you’re feeling.

‘It’s kind of counterintuitive, because people think that when they’re angry, you’ve got to think your way through it,” Denson says. ‘[But] people who ruminate tend to eventually lose control.

“What we’re finding, is that with something distracting – although it’s probably not good to go play a violent video game – with a distraction that’s neutral and consuming, it’s much better for diminishing anger… Distraction allows all of the anger to subside.”

Sitting down to read a book, or even cooking a meal, may be enough to allow the height of the emotion to subside and enable you to approach the problem with less aggression at a later stage.


At Macquarie University however, Dr Wayne Warburton is less sold on the notion of distraction and instead suggests learning to redirect anger to more positive outcomes.

Anger can motivate someone to reach extreme sporting achievements or write beautiful music, he says.

“Some of the great concertos and some of the most beautiful music – Bob Dylan’s music, Neal Young’s music – is written out of anger, but it helps to make the world a better place.

“I think good anger management helps to harness the energy to look for positive expressions, and focus it so that the expression of anger is related directly to what makes the person angry. That’s a helpful way of dealing with anger.

Warburton says we all have different triggers for our anger and we can all express it in a whole range of different ways. But his research suggests that repeated exposure to violent media – including some computer games – can make it much more likely that anger manifests itself as aggression.

He and his colleagues have been gauging the level of aggression triggered by different stimuli using an excruciating method – measuring how much very hot chilli sauce a person is prepared to make an innocent volunteer eat.

“They know that if they put a lot in the cup it’s going to make the person’s mouth burn, their eyes water, perhaps make their tongue go numb and if they give them too much it will probably put them in hospital. Despite that, you still get people who will put in a whole cup.’

It might seem an unorthodox approach but it’s revealing a clear pattern: Expose yourself to violent media regularly and ‘each time it happens, you’re more likely to respond to triggers with aggressive behaviour.’ The take home message is that if rage is a problem in your life, avoiding violent influences may help you keep it under control.

2009 Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

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