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Eumind 2018-2019 Symmetry in

portraits
Maths In Fine Arts

Dies, Mertijn and Susanti


HET COLLEGE WEERT, THE NETHERLANDS
Introduction
The researchers had a hard time thinking of a proper research question concerning the theme
“maths in fine arts”. Eventually, they came up with an idea to test if people can spot symmetrical
faces in paintings. The research question is: When given three portraits as options, can people point
out the most symmetrical one under three minutes?
The researchers think this experiment can be useful to people who are experts in portraits and want
to do more research about symmetrical faces in fine art.

Research design

To execute this experiment, you only need a few things:


- A quiet room
- The three paintings of Elizabeth I, Giuseppe Arcimboldo and the roman painting of a boy
(where Elizabeth’s painting is the most symmetrical)
- Paper and a pen

The researchers will ask one test person to come with them to a room. That room has to have
minimal distraction, so no disturbing sounds. They will put a paper with the portraits printed out on
the table, but it’s still turned over so you can’t see the portraits yet. Then the researcher will explain
what the test person has to do. Then, they will turn over the paper so the test person can look at
them. They have one minute to examine the portraits and to point one out. If the test person is not
sure after 30 seconds, they still have to point out one, even if they aren’t sure.
In total, the experiment repeats itself twelve times with twelve different test persons.
Results

Elizabeth I Giuseppe Arcimboldo Roman portrait


Half of the people were able to point out the most symmetrical face, and half of them chose the
wrong one. Most people chose the portrait of Elizabeth I, and the least people chose the Roman
portrait.

Conclusion
With the information gathered from the experiment, the researchers conclude that half of the
people can recognise a symmetrical face in a portrait. But because the number of test persons was
not very high, there is a chance that this experiment isn’t very valid. The outcome was fifty-fifty,
while maybe with more participants, the outcome would be more precise. This is a point of
improvement. A follow-up research could be about how people recognise symmetry; do they have to
look at it for a long time, or is it something they notice unconsciously?