A new study out of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas suggests that students learn more and retain more material when the material is presented by a physically attractive teacher.
The study, entitled “Effects of Instructor Attractiveness on Learning,” was published recently in The Journal of General Psychology.
The trio of psychology researchers behind the study — Richard Westfall, Murray Millar and Mandy Walsh — invited 131 college students to listen to a short lecture on the topic of introductory physics.
The lecture itself was only on audio. However, the researchers displayed different photos for the students. For 62 of the students, the photo featured an attractive person. For the other 131 students, the photo featured some ugly person.
The researchers told each set of students that the photo on display was the professor the students were hearing in the audio.
The material presented by the professors — “professors” — was identical. Also, the researchers did not allow their research subjects to take any notes.
Of the 131 students participating in the study, 86 were women and 45 were men. Their average age was 20.
A panel of students decided that the people featured in the photos were attractive and unattractive. (The student panel did not contain any of the students who participated in the study.)
The photos of the “professors” featured both males and females.
After the cohorts of students heard the introductory physics lecture — from either a beautiful person or an ugly person, as far as they knew — the 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.
The students also gave higher ratings to the lectures they thought they had just received from better-looking professors — and lower ratings to the same lecture they thought they got from an ugly professor. Students said the same lecture from a hot professor was more likely to “motivate” them, for example.
The researchers offer two theories for why students learn better when their teachers are hot.
One of the theories is that “the attractiveness of the instructor produces a self-fulfilling prophecy effect.” In a bit of heavenly symbiosis, the researchers speculate, “the positive expectations students have about attractive instructors influence attractive instructors to engage in behavior that increases teaching effectiveness.” Maybe the teachers then “devote more time to preparation” and generally teach better because students like to look at them. And, alternatively, maybe ugly teachers phone in their lectures because they “perceive negative expectations.”
A second theory is that students simply pay more and better attention when their teachers are at pleasant to look at. “It is conceivable that attractive instructors command more attention from students than less attractive instructors,” the researchers note. “There is considerable evidence that attractive persons receive more attention than unattractive persons and maybe are more persuasive.” Possibly, the researchers say, “attention to the instructor is consistently associated with more learning, and attention to the instructor is related with greater short-term and long-term recall.”
Of the three researchers who authored the study — Westfall, Millar and Walsh — only Walsh receives a coveted hotness pepper from the website Rate My Professors.
Walsh is the only woman researcher.