Title: How formalism shapes perception: an experiment on mathematics as a language

Authors: Jakob Kapeller; Stefan Steinerberger

Addresses: Department of Philosophy and Theory of Science, University of Linz, Altenbergerstraße 69, 4040 Linz, Austria ' Mathematical Institute, University of Bonn, Endenicher Allee. 60, 53115, Bonn, Germany

Abstract: This paper discusses the role of mathematics as a conversational tool in economics. Based on the observation that mathematics is understood as an alternative language to express theoretical concepts and ideas, this paper reports experimental results trying to estimate the potential effects such a use of mathematics as a conversational tool may carry. These results refine certain intuitive statements about the role of mathematics in economic discourse and expose some unexpected effects in merit of further study. In particular, the results show that on average the mere presence of mathematics makes a problem seem more difficult, that mathematical knowledge is primarily attributed to specific training, that using mathematical expressions may decrease the proportion of people able to understand a certain argument and that mathematical arguments are more likely to convince men than women.

Keywords: mathematics as a language; psychological effects; experiment; economics education; formalism; perception; conversational tools; economic discourse.

DOI: 10.1504/IJPEE.2013.055441

International Journal of Pluralism and Economics Education, 2013 Vol.4 No.2, pp.138 - 156

Published online: 30 Apr 2014 *

Full-text access for editors Full-text access for subscribers Purchase this article Comment on this article