Enthusiasm & the Dr Fox Effect

As I have tried to flesh out the components I think are essential to an instructional conversation, I used the term “mutual engagement.” By this I meant that no conversation is real if it just involves an instructor posing questions to which the instructor herself is not engaged.  Though this may seem idealistic (especially for teachers of the younger grades), I felt that this was essential to conversation.  Dr. Graham commented on one of my earlier posts in which I brought up this idea, and wrote:

…[A]s I have been thinking about theories related to blended learning one of the things I have been thinking about is how instructional conversations tend to transmit or diminish the energy of the agents involved.  A good conversation or interaction seems to generate energy seemingly out of nowhere – it breaks the law of conservation of energy because it is not energy transmitted from one participant to the other but something that energizes all participants.  On the other hand some conversations take a great amount of energy but don’t seem to generate energy at all.  The fidelity of the interaction and non-verbal cues seem to be part of what communicates energy in a conversation.  Talking with someone who is excited or passionate about a subject is contagious while conversing with someone who is engaged in a conversation because they are being required or coerced to doesn’t have the same energy.

After his comment, I changed my essential from “mutual engagement” to “shared energy.”  Since then I have tried to do some additional reading on energy, engagement, and enthusiasm in instruction.  Today I read an article (Murray, 1980) suggested to me by my classmate, Jered Borup (see his blog here).  That led me to a couple of other articles, and to thinking about the “Dr. Fox Effect.”

In the Murray article, findings are presented about the correlation between student ratings of professors and those professors’ “low-inference teaching behaviors.”  The behaviors that most correspond to high teacher ratings are clarity, rapport, and enthusiasm.  Murray hypothesizes that teachers who teach with enthusiasm will also have higher student achievement, since recall and attention are higher when teachers are enthusiastic and students are kept engaged.  However, his article does not research this.

In the article by Abrami, Leventhal, & Perry (1982), they utilize the term “educational seduction” to describe the Dr. Fox effect, wherein

Naftulin, Ware, and Donnelly (1973) found that an entertaining, charismatic lecturer who spoke deliberate nonsense received surprisingly high evaluations from an audience of educators and mental health professionals. (p. 446)

Abrami et al reviewed the earlier research, found inconsistencies, and conducted a meta-analysis to try to empirically integrate the literature’s findings.  They write:

Overall, we found that instructor expressiveness had a substantial impact on student ratings but a small impact on student achievement. In contrast, lecture content had a substantial impact on student achievement but a small impact on student ratings. (Abrami, Leventhal, & Perry, p. 446)

However, most of the article is spent critiquing the field of “educational seduction” research, not delving into the effects of enthusiasm on student learning.

I’m hunting down an article (the Ware & Williams one in the References section) which may comment more on this, though it is fairly old. If I had more time, I’d definitely need to spend some of it reading up on research about enthusiasm in instruction.  Yet even this does not fully cover the concept of “shared energy.”  A teacher can have a lot of enthusiasm for a subject, but share that without giving listeners the chance to converse with her about it. Thus teacher enthusiasm is too narrow to encapsulate “shared energy.”


Abrami, P. C., L. Leventhal, and R. P. Perry. (1982). “Educational Seduction.” Review of Educational Research 52, no. 3: 446-464. doi:10.3102/00346543052003446. http://rer.sagepub.com/cgi/doi/10.3102/00346543052003446.

Murray, Harry G. “Low-Inference Classroom Teaching Behaviors and Student Ratings of College Teaching Effectiveness.” Journal of Educational Technology 75, no. 1 (1983): 138-149.

Ware, J. E., & Williams, R. G. (1980).  A reanalysis of the Doctor Fox experiments.  Instructional Evaluation. 4. pp. 15-18.


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