The Aesthetic Psychology of Mathematics

12 Pages Posted: 21 Nov 2017

See all articles by Samuel Johnson

Samuel Johnson

University of Bath - School of Management

Stefan Steinerberger

Yale University

Date Written: November 17, 2017


Mathematicians often describe arguments as “beautiful” or “dull,” and famous scientists have claimed that mathematical beauty is a guide toward the truth. Do laypeople, like mathematicians and scientists, perceive mathematics through an aesthetic lens? We show here that they do. Two studies ask people to rate the similarity of simple mathematical arguments to pieces of classical piano music (Study 1) or to landscape paintings (Study 2). In both cases, there is internal consensus about the pairings of arguments and artworks at greater than chance levels, particularly for visual art. There was also some evidence for correspondence to the aesthetic ratings of undergraduate mathematics students (Study 1) and of professional mathematicians (Studies 1 and 2).

Keywords: Psychology of mathematics, Explanation, Aesthetics, Reasoning, STEM education

JEL Classification: D91

Suggested Citation

Johnson, Samuel and Steinerberger, Stefan, The Aesthetic Psychology of Mathematics (November 17, 2017). Available at SSRN: or

Samuel Johnson (Contact Author)

University of Bath - School of Management ( email )

Claverton Down
Bath, BA2 7AY
United Kingdom


Stefan Steinerberger

Yale University ( email )

New Haven, CT 06520
United States

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