A recent psychological study says its findings support claims that physical attractiveness in an instructor can play a positive role in students’ learning.
Conducted by a team of psychologists, including an expert in human stereotyping and evolutionary psychology, the report states that:
“Although many variables factor into student learning in the classroom, this study is the first to demonstrate that teacher attractiveness could play a previously overlooked role.”
The study, published in the Journal of General Psychology, also highlights the fact that while much research has gone into the impact of student attractiveness on instructors, not much attention has been given to the influence that instructor attractiveness has on students.
The research findings reportedly show that an instructor’s perceived physical attractiveness will play into students’ bias when it comes to valuing them as an effective teacher:
“Independent of actual ability, physical attractiveness appears to create the impression of improved ability in the minds of students.”
The study, according to the report, tested the hypothesis that students would “perform significantly better on a learning task when they perceived their instructor to be high in physical attractiveness.”
The researchers tested the hypothesis by getting students to listen to an audio lecture whilst looking at a picture of an instructor. These were chosen by a group of six students who were not participants in the actual experiment. They rated the pictures on attractiveness from 1 (extremely unattractive) to 10 (extremely attractive). Four above-average attractiveness males and females and four below-average attractiveness males and females were selected for use as exemplars in the study.
The writers of the piece were candid about the limitations of their research, saying that looking at a picture does not give the same effect as being “exposed to an actual living moving person.” Moreover, in the procedures for the study, students were tested immediately after the material was presented, whereas in real life a student will have more opportunity to study prior to being tested.
As such, the report says:
“It is possible that our experimental procedures enhanced the roll of physical appearance.
That is, over a longer period, one might be influenced by more subtle characteristics (such as IQ) that are not readily apparent from just one lecture.”
The writers who carried out the project, Richard Westfall, Murray Millar and Mandy Walsh, do outline these problems as potential lines of new research.
The exact reason behind the effect of attractiveness on learning is somewhat unclear, as described in the report:
“The lack of significant gender effects in this study indicates that the effects of physical attractiveness are not driven by human attraction and mating behavior but is more global in origin.”
However, according to the psychologists behind the study, it aligns with the considerable research and evidence that shows that attractive people receive more attention than unattractive people and may be more persuasive because of this.
Although there was a correlation within the findings that suggests instructor attractiveness can have a positive effect on learning, the limitations highlighted by the researchers themselves, as well as the fact that they say, “it is possible that attractive instructors distract students from attending to [school] material” means that the findings are far from conclusive.