Do people really learn more from 'attractive' instructors?

by L&D29 Aug 2016
People learn more if their instructor is perceived to be good-looking, claims new research from the University of Nevada.

The study, entitled “Effects of Instructor Attractiveness on Learning,” found that participants were more likely to pay closer attention, be more motivated, and rate the instructor more highly if they consider them to be attractive.

The psychology researchers included Richard Westfall, Murray Millar and Mandy Walsh, who asked participants to listen to a short lecture on the topic of introductory physics.

The 131 participants in the study included 86 women and 45 men. The average age was 20 and they all attended college.

While the recording was playing, the participants were shown a photograph of a man or woman.

They were told that the person in the photograph was who they were listening to. Some people in the photographs were said to be very attractive, others were perceived to be not very attractive.

After they heard the recordings, researchers gave the students a 25-question quiz about the material.

“Consistent with the predictions; attractive instructors were associated with more learning,” the researchers reported.

Those with the ‘attractive’ instructor had an average score of 18.27, however those with an ‘unattractive’ one had a score of about 16.68. Even though the gap isn’t massive, it is still ‘statistically significant’, the researchers said.

The students also gave higher evaluations to the lectures they thought they had just received from better-looking professors.

Students said the same lecture from a good-looking professor was more likely to “motivate” them, and these instructors had better intelligence and competence.

One of the theories is that the attractiveness of the instructor produces a “self-fulfilling prophecy effect”.

The researchers speculated that, “the positive expectations students have about attractive instructors influence attractive instructors to engage in behaviour that increases teaching effectiveness”.

Consequently, the instructors then “devote more time to preparation” and generally teach better because the participants like to look at them.

Another theory is that students devote more attention when their teachers are considered good-looking.

“It is conceivable that attractive instructors command more attention from students than less attractive instructors,” the researchers said.

“There is considerable evidence that attractive persons receive more attention than unattractive persons and maybe are more persuasive.”

The study is published in the Journal of General Psychology.

The research is backed up by similar findings which suggests that jurors are often heavily influenced by how good-looking the accused is perceived to be.