AUSTIN, Texas—Physical beauty appears to have substantial influence over how instructors are rated for teaching ability, according to new research by an economist at The University of Texas at Austin.
The study, conducted by Dr. Daniel Hamermesh, the Edward Everett Hale Centennial Professor of Economics in the College of Liberal Arts, examined the impact of professors’ beauty on the instructional ratings in courses they teach. Photos of 94 instructors were rated by a group of students on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the highest) to create a standardized beauty rating for each. These beauty ratings were then compared to the average evaluation score for the 463 undergraduate classes taught by the instructors.
“We wanted to look at what generates the measured productivity for which economic rewards, such as pay increases, are being offered,” Hamermesh said. “It could be that characteristics such as beauty trigger positive responses by students and lead them to evaluate some teachers more favorably, so that their beauty earns them higher economic returns.”
Instructors who ranked high on beauty, also rated high on course evaluations. On a five-point scale, the best-looking instructor rated nearly a full point higher on the average evaluation score than the worst-looking instructor.
“This study brings up a number of questions,” Hamermesh said. “Does beauty make professors more productive in the classroom or are students merely reacting to an irrelevant characteristic? Do higher student evaluations mean that the faculty member is a better teacher and is more productive in stimulating students’ learning? Administrators behave as if they believe these evaluations are evidence of actual teaching productivity and link economic rewards to them.
“What if students simply pay more attention to good-looking professors and learn more?” Hamermesh asked. “We would argue that this is a productivity effect and claim that the instructors are better teachers. Others might maintain that the higher productivity arises from being treated differently than their worse looking colleagues and is evidence of discrimination. Either way, the evidence demonstrates that one of the measures of teaching productivity is enhanced by the instructor’s beauty.”
The full text of “Beauty in the Classroom: Professors’ Pulchritude and Putative Pedagogical Productivity,” is available online.