Homework can be a real chore. Students are often reluctant to tackle it, despite persistent requests from their parents or teachers. However, a new study reveals that attitudes towards homework can be influenced by the physical appearance of the teacher.
The research in question was published in the journal “Frontiers in Psychology” by a Romanian research team. They carried out several experiments with 173 Romanian pupils aged nine to 14, comprising 89 girls and 84 boys, to determine the impact of their perception of a teacher’s attractiveness on their academic performance.
The researchers first asked the schoolchildren to look at several photos of a woman, presented as their teacher, wearing more or less flattering clothing. The pupils were then asked to rate her physical appearance on the basis of these pictures, enabling the scientists to identify those in which the teacher was perceived as most and least attractive.
“Although the purpose of the pilot study was not to classify teachers’ attire in two categories, based on the clothing indicators, it can be easily concluded that the attractive photo represents the formal business attire, while the unattractive photo is closer to the casual style,” the study said.
The two pictures selected by the students were used in a second experiment, during which the researchers asked them to listen to a six-minute audio extract, supposedly recorded by the teacher in the picture. But the scientists did not show the same teacher photo to all the students, who were separated into two groups for the purposes of this experiment.
Some were shown the one in which the young woman was dressed professionally (that is, the photo deemed “attractive” in the first experiment), while their classmates were shown the one in which she was more casual (the photo deemed “unattractive”).
The pupils used these two pictures to fill out questionnaires on the teacher’s personality and supposed qualities.
The research team found that students had different views of the educator depending on which photo they were shown. In fact, they attributed more professional qualities and skills to the teacher in the more formally dressed photo.
Previous scientific studies have shown that beauty is generally associated with positive attributes. People considered beautiful are attributed favourable qualities such as kindness, greater intelligence, and better social skills.
But the study goes further, claiming that schoolchildren can behave differently in the classroom depending on the physical appearance of their teacher.
Students who were shown a photo of the teacher in so-called “professional” attire were more open to the idea of participating in extracurricular activities or doing homework, compared with their classmates who were shown a photo of her wearing a casual look.
“Children who found the teacher model to be more attractive in clothing reported that the teacher presents the lesson more clearly, is more organised when teaching the lesson, knows the subject matter better, cares about the students more, captures the students’ attention more, and is even more prepared for the lesson, than in the situation where the children considered the teacher to be unattractive,” the researchers concluded.
The team believes that schools could use the findings of their study to consider introducing dress codes for teaching staff.
“Teachers are expected to be good models in all areas of life and teach for the educational outcome, and their attire serves this purpose,” they concluded.