Educ 5500 - Austin Peay State University

Student Physical Attractiveness and Teacher Expectancy
Austin Peay State University
EDUC 5500: Foundations of American Education
September 22, 2012
The importance of teacher multicultural awareness has recently been emphasized in an attempt to
combat overall teacher bias. However, there are other forms of bias teaching that take place that
are not as publicized or recognized as race, gender, culture, or ethnicity bias. The type of bias
that is discussed in this paper deals with students’ physical attractiveness and teacher
expectancies. Unfortunately, many of the bias teaching practices that are discussed can often take
place unconsciously, making them difficult to isolate and address both practically and in
research. Most of the research gathered indicates teacher expectancies and physical attractiveness
do create a teacher bias that influences students’ academic achievements. However, other studies
have used different methods and procedures and have found contradicting findings that challenge
the idea that teacher expectancies and physical attractiveness have a significant effect on student
achievement. Nevertheless, it could be argued that simply acknowledging the existence of such
bias can be advantageous in surpassing bias teaching or at least minimizing it.
Student Physical Attractiveness and Teacher Expectancy
Bias teaching comes in many shapes and sizes, but not all bias teaching practices are
conscious or easily identifiable. As society move further away from gender, race, and culture
discrimination, pre-service teaching degree plans and in-service workshops make an effort to
minimize and end discrimination and favoritism in the classroom. Clearly, schools have come a
long way from discriminatory practices like separate bathrooms for white and black students or
corporal punishment for students who spoke a word of a foreign language in class. Thankfully,
with the measures being taken today to improve teacher’s multicultural awareness, society, for
the most part, is moving forward in the ability to provide every student an equal and fair
On the other hand, there are other forms of biased teaching that often go unrecognized
and unaddressed. Biased grading or teaching can be positively or negatively lenient and
conscious or unconscious. Understandably, bias that is unconscious is difficult to isolate,
acknowledge, identify, and prove. In turn, it can be argued that unconscious bias is more
dangerous than conscious bias due to the difficulty that both an outsider looking in and the
perpetrator themselves exhibit in identifying and addressing the issue. Yet, politics and media
often times concern themselves with the more sensitive bias issues like racism or sexism in the
classrooms, often leaving the less noticed and more dangerous unconscious issues unaddressed.
It is important to note that there are various definitions of the word unconscious and that
the type of unconscious bias that is being referred to reflects Sigmund Freud’s view which
describes the unconscious as including repressed feelings, automatic skills, subliminal
perceptions, thoughts, habits, and automatic reactions (Weiten, 2002). Because unconscious
thoughts and feelings are so difficult to empirically analyze, much of the research presented
discusses subconscious and conscious conflicts of biased teaching practices that were observed
by teachers and students. While unconscious biased teaching practices are difficult to research, it
is vital that the unconscious factor not be disregarded.
Specifically, the biased teaching practices that are discussed further in this paper
highlight student attractiveness and teacher expectancies. Both student attractiveness and teacher
expectancies are variables that are difficult to isolate because they may go unnoticed by the
perpetrator and may even be deemed “unconscious”. An example of student attractiveness or
teacher expectancies being difficult to identify is when a teacher spends just a few minutes more
with an attractive student working on a problem. Likewise, this phenomenon may even evolve to
unconsciously grading an attractive student’s paper better than a less attractive student. Some
research may be clever enough to isolate the unconscious effort made by teachers to prefer one
student over another, but most research will attempt to recognize more measurable results. In
turn, it is possible that data suffers from the fact that only teachers who are consciously bias are
represented in results. Throughout the different research that is discussed in this paper, it is
critical that this variable be taken into consideration.
Teacher Expectancy Effect
Much research has been devoted to understanding whether teachers’ expectations of a
student’s performance will effect that student’s achievement (Dusek & Joseph, 1983; Dusek &
O’Connell, 1973; O’Connell, Dusek & Wheeler, 1974; Raudenbush, 1984). Because this paper is
dedicated to discussing teacher bias, it is especially important to make sure all research theories
are considered and not only research that supports one view on teacher expectancy effect.
Consequently, it must be mentioned that there is not enough information to completely support
or ignore the teacher expectancy effect.
The core of the teacher expectancy effect lies in the controversial Pygmalion study.
Rosenthal and Jacobson (1968) designed the Pygmalion study by having predominantly poor
children take a test that was explained as being a test that would predict significant intellectual
growth in the near future of that student. The names of the students who got the highest score on
this made-up test were supposedly given to the teachers, but in all actuality, the names given to
the teachers were chosen at random. After students were retested 8 months later, results indicated
that those students’ whose teachers believed had higher intellectual potential actually ended up
scoring significantly higher than other students. In addition to these results, teachers also rated
the supposed intellectual superior students as more curious, happier, more adjusted, and less in
need of approval (Raudenbush, 1984)
Clearly, the results of this study were enough to cause a heated debate between
researchers, administrators, teachers, and parents leading to attempts of replication. There have
been a myriad of replication attempts with many interesting aspects of the study being
uncovered. For instance, Anderson and Rosenthal (1968) emphasized the importance in the
timing of expectancy induction, highlighting the fact that expectancy induction before teachers
had time to get to know the students correlated with higher of an expectancy (as cited in
Raudenbush, 1984). While Claiborn, (1969) indicated that the expectancy effect had no effect
when expectancy induction was provided after teachers had worked with the students for months
(as cited in Raudenbush, 1984). These results indicate the importance of expectancy induction,
which is described as the process of giving teachers a reason to expect more from students
(Raudenbush, 1984).
Other than expectancy induction timing, researchers also scrutinized differences in
children’s age, uncontrolled measurement and tester bias. Specifically, Thorndike (1968) a critic
of the Pygmalion study, argued that results on IQ test can vary according to maturity (as cited in
Raudenbush, 1984). Given that willingness to succeed on the test may increase with maturity and
age, then the accumulation of age at the time of the post-test may have caused the positive gains
While far from being widely accepted and not exactly completely generalizable, teacher
expectancy should not be ignored. Evidently, many researchers have been able to replicate
results (Raudenbush, 1984), leading to the idea that while teacher expectancy does not always
occur, it is a possibility that educators should be aware of. Particularly, given the results on
expectancy induction, teachers should take caution when discussing students who will be
transitioning to another teacher’s classroom in future grade levels, for this prior expectancy
induction may lead to positive teacher expectancy results.
Student Attractiveness
Teacher expectancy can be initiated by different kinds of stimulus. Dusek and O’Connell
(1973) proposed research that discredited Rosenthal and Jacobson’s (1968) Pygmalion study and
in doing so found significant results of teachers rankings showing strong consistent effects. The
teachers’ rankings did not indicate any bias, because ranking was based on previous academic
achievement, tests, written and oral academic performance, and other academic criteria that were
observed during the first few weeks of class (Dusek & O’Connell, 1973). Hence, rather than
having false information being given to the teacher to induce expectancy, teachers created this
expectancy according to their own observations, begging the question: what observations other
than academic criteria are possibly used by teachers to induce certain expectations on students?
To answer this question studies have examined many different theories of expectancies
being held by teachers that are unrelated to academia and eventually lead to a teacher expectancy
effect. One very interesting theory that many researchers have scrutinized is that student
attractiveness is one factor that contributes to a teacher’s expectations of a student (Clifford &
Walster, 1973; Kenealy, Frude, & Shaw, 1988; Tompkins & Boor, 1980). Specifically, Clifford
and Walster (1973) indicated that there was a significant correlation between physical
appearance and teacher expectations. Moreover, the study enabled teachers to make comments in
addition to the questions asked as part of the research. The comments allowed researchers to
investigate the justifications made by teachers for their answers. In turn, the comments served as
a great addition to understanding how exactly teachers rationalize their bias. Moreover, the
comments also demonstrated that while teachers may be biased in this regard, it is not with any
mal-intent or in discriminating ways. For instance, one teacher admitted that her results were
mostly based on photos when she wasn’t confident about her initial choices based on the
academic reports. Another teacher described the influence of a “clean-cut” appearance having an
effect on the teacher’s responses (Clifford & Walster, 1973, p. 255). It is important to consider
the research presented, as it offers relevant insight on the unusual impact of physical
attractiveness on teacher expectancy and highlights possible bias that teachers should attempt to
be more aware of and mitigate.
Likewise, a similar study also suggested a positive correlation between teacher’s ratings’
of attractiveness and expectations on children’s social, academic, and leadership skills (Keneally,
Frude & Shaw, 1988). Specifically, the research indicated that teachers judged attractive children
as more social, confident, popular, higher academic potential, and more likely to be leaders than
less attractive students (Keneally, Frude & Shaw, 1988). Additionally, interactions in the
research revealed a tendency for teachers to rate girls higher than boys; however, much like race
or ethnicity bias, gender bias has a whole other body of research debating its existence.
Evidently, this study offers support for the suggestion that teachers may have a bias of some sort
towards students who are physically more attractive.
On the other hand, in analyzing the possible effects of physical attractiveness on teacher
expectancy it is critical that both, research supporting and denying the bias is presented. Since
research supporting the theory of physical attractiveness having an effect on teacher expectancy
has been presented, it is vital to assess research that contradicted such findings by using different
procedures and methods. While Tompkins and Boor’s (1980) research continued to indicate that
student attractiveness correlated with positive ratings of social attributes by teachers, the research
also indicated that attractive students did not have any effect on academic ratings by teachers.
Furthermore, the researchers suggested that the halo effect may have played a significant role in
teacher’s judgments in previous studies that supported the theory of physical attractiveness
influencing teacher expectancy.
Teacher bias is usually a sensitive topic that many people do not enjoy discussing
because it questions the integrity of teachers. The difficulty in addressing the teacher bias issue is
minor compared to the problems faced when trying to identify or prove teacher bias.
Unfortunately, research is not the only area that has trouble isolating and examining teacher bias,
as teachers and administrators also face similar difficulties in realizing their own possible bias.
Subsequently, students are the victims, facing unfair teaching or grading practices that may
affect the rest of their lives.
Given the research presented, I cannot assume with complete certainty that teacher
expectancy affects a student’s academic achievement. However, it is possible to recognize that
teacher expectancy may have an effect on student’s academic achievement and that is enough for
me to attempt to mitigate or extinguish any expectancy effects I may create for my future
students. Enough research and replications of research have indicated that teacher expectancy
may affect student academic achievement for me to realize that while this may not hold true in
every case, it is a possibility that I should consider and not ignore or deny.
Teacher may logically hold expectations for students who have performed well in other
classes academically, but by knowing that these expectations exist and possibly affect student
academic achievement, teachers can better defend against any bias teaching practices to mitigate
influence. On the other hand, what if there are expectations that teachers have based on criteria
that is not academically related? Physical attractiveness is a good example of a non-academic
factor that may influence teacher expectations of a student. The physical attractiveness variable
that is being addressed does not specifically refer to sexual attractiveness, but rather a general
observation that a student is simply more or less physically attractive than another student.
Again, while there is not enough research to indicate that physical attractiveness is a factor that
will influence teachers’ expectations of students, there is enough research for teachers to be
aware and cautious of the possible bias that is related to physical attractiveness.
A possible explanation for the lack of evidence supporting the teacher expectancy effect
and physical attractiveness bias is that these bias behaviors are often times unconscious or
unintentional. Correspondingly, researchers have a difficult time isolating and proving that such
bias exist and teachers end up continuing to effect students unintentionally with their bias
teaching practices. Nonetheless, the empirical research provided is enough to satisfy the need for
teachers to remain aware of these possible bias teaching practices. However, clever research
methods and the freedom to conduct research that may be without the participant’s consent is
necessary in future research to examine the unconscious bias that teachers may hold so that
students receive a fair and equal education.
Clifford, M. M., & Walster, E. (1973). Research note: The effect of physical attractiveness on
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of Educational Psychology, 75(3), 327-46.
Dusek, J. B., & O'Connell, E. J. (1973). Teacher expectancy effects on the achievement test
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Kenealy, P., & O. (1988). Influence of children's physical attractiveness on teacher
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O'Connell, E. J., & O. (1974). A follow-up study of teacher expectancy effects. Journal of
Educational Psychology, 66(3), 325-328
Raudenbush, S. W. (1984). Magnitude of teacher expectancy effects on pupil IQ as a function of
the credibility of expectancy induction: A synthesis of findings from 18
experiments. Journal of Educational Psychology, 76(1), 85-97.
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Tompkins, R. C., & Boor, M. (1980). Effects of students' physical attractiveness and name
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Psychology, 106(1), 37-42.
Weiten, W. (2002). Psychology themes and variations (5th ed.). Belmont, CA:
Wadsworth/Thomson Learning.