Professor-Student Interactions and Student Participation: Comparing the Effects of Body Language and Sex on Classroom Participation

Luke Brenneman, Wes Bass, Jordan Peterson, Huntington University

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Abstract Despite extensive research and widely-held belief supporting the fact that educators call on males more than females in the classroom, the sex of students may overshadow the importance of the body language typical of each sex in classroom interactions between educators and students. This study sought to explore how significantly body language influences professor-student interactions through the use of classroom observation and self-reported surveys at a small Midwestern university. Results of both observation and surveys were analyzed primarily by using frequencies and percentages in order to measure the extent to which the independent variable, body language and sex of students, is correlated to the dependent variable, student participation and professors’ interactions with students based on sex. Results indicated that a combination of a student being a male and exhibiting several specific positions of male-associated body language is correlated with more professor-student interactions than any other variable combination. When combined with data about females displaying certain elements of each sex’s body language, results strongly suggested that a combination of sex and sex-associated body language determine frequency and quality of educator-student interactions.

Introduction The following statement has been supported through the work of many researchers and hours of study and observation: Teachers call on boys more than girls (Altermatt, Jovanovic, & Perry, 1998). Although some work refutes the idea, most who study classroom dynamics in association with sex agree that educators have most of their positive interactions with male students through giving them more question-answering opportunities, feedback, encouragement, and individual attention and instruction than females (Altermatt, Jovanovic, & Perry, 1998). A potential cause for this phenomenon is the difference between how males and females use body language and how educators interpret the body language typical of each sex. Elements of body language associated with males tend to communicate more engagement, responsiveness, confidence, eagerness, and intelligence (McGinley, LeFevre, & McGinley, 1975), which presents the possibility that educators’ apparent biases toward males in classroom interactions may actually be natural proclivities to select the students whose body language makes them seem most eager, capable, and ready (Altermatt, Jovanovic, & Perry, 1998).

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