Mathematical representations in magazine advertisements: have the messages changed in a decade?

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Although people's ideas about mathematics and mathematicians often develop from their school and home experiences, such ideas also are influenced by interactions with popular media. In this article, I report on findings from a study in which I analyzed magazine advertisements for representations of mathematics and mathematicians. Data collection took place in two phases, approximately a decade apart. In each phase, I reviewed a year’s worth of issues in each of six diverse, popular magazines for mathematical representations in advertisements. The frequency of mathematical advertisements decreased from Phase 1 to Phase 2, but the initial frequency was already extremely low, indicating mathematics’ invisibility in popular media. This lack of representation may be due to mathematics not being seen as a “cool” way to sell a product or service since mathematics is linked to many negative stereotypes. The representations were similar in the two phases, with mathematics often depicted in stereotypical ways, such as being difficult or stressful. People rarely featured in the mathematical advertisements, which serves to further dehumanize mathematics. Generally, the findings were consistent with those from studies of other popular media, such as movies and books.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)136-165
Number of pages30
JournalJournal of Humanistic Mathematics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Cite this