What’s special about the Golden Section

for the aesthetic appreciation of visual composition

Mark A. Elliott 

National University of Ireland

DATE: 24th August 2019
TIME: 14:00 – 15:00 pm
LOCATION: Don Orione Foundation, Venice


The ‘Golden Section’ (‘Golden Mean’ or ‘Ratio’) refers to a particular ratio between two independent stimulus parameters, often two indices of size of a visual item, defined by the equation a/b = b/(a + b). For several centuries this ratio has been held to possess particular aesthetic appeal, and although supported by some this idea is also disputed by a number of studies in experimental aesthetics. In this study we examined the effects of golden sectioning on target discrimination in Mondrian type grids each comprising a variable number of paired sections in different area-area ratios, one of which being the golden section. In three experiments participants were asked (i) to discriminate as rapidly and accurately as possible the luminance of the smallest section in horizontally oriented grids (ii) to assess the aesthetic appeal of these grids and (iii) because of a possible effect of visual field morphology, participants undertook (i) using vertically oriented grids. These experiments revealed, while there was no preference for golden sectioned grids, reaction times were substantially slowed when a set of grids were sectioned according to the golden ratio and irrespective to grid orientation. These effects are unlikely to be related to attentional deployment and instead suggest slowed perceptual processing at the target location. However, whilst they are the first behavioral evidence indicating golden sectioning to be of cognitive relevance, irrespective to its aesthetic appeal, why it should do so remains a matter for further research.





An experimental psychologist and measurement scientist with a background in general psychology and cognitive science, Mark’s scholarly lineage originates in the German Gestalt Schools, reflecting scientific and philosophical interests in perceptual structure, alongside the dynamics of mechanisms which bring this structure about.

Mark’s scientific work in this area is referenced in the internationally standard undergraduate textbook “Psychology” by Gleitman, Gross and Reisberg.

As former President of the International Society for Psychophysics, with 20 years post PhD experience in psychological measurement, Mark is well placed to apply expertise in the design and development of state-of-the-art human performance measures for business and industry clients. This culminates in co-founding the Assessment Innovation start-up described in greater detail below.

Clinical research includes investigations of schizophrenia, autism-spectrum-disorder, central-auditory-processing disorder, specific-reading and language-impaired children as well as stroke lesioned patients.

Mark has authored 64 publications in peer-reviewed journals and books, including 9 invited book chapters, advanced reviews, and feature articles. There are additionally, 1 edited proceedings volume and 2 edited special journal issues in addition to 30 other publications including 27 articles in proceedings volumes (Hirsch’s h-index = 21; Egghe’s g index = 31). Publications are in journals of median (estimated) impact factor 4. This is 3 times the median impact of journals within the discipline of Psychology (2010, median = 1.33).

Since 1998 he has delivered 80+ lectures in 15 countries including major universities or scientific meetings in the UK and Ireland, USA, Russia, Japan, China, France, Spain, Germany, Brazil, Turkey, Israel, Switzerland and Italy. These include 45 invited talks at colloquia or major national and international symposia and 5 named keynote lectures.

More info:

  1. “The Golden Section as Optical Limitation” by Mark A. Elliott, Joy Kelly, Jonas Friedel, Jennifer Brodsky, Paul Mulcahy, PLOS ONE, July 8, 2015
  2. “All That Glitters: A Review of Psychological Research on the Aesthetics of the Golden Section”
    by Christopher D. Green, Department of Psychology, York University, CANADA
    Published 1995 in Perception, 24, 937-968.