Dr. Fox effect

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The Dr. Fox effect is a correlation observed between teacher expressiveness, content coverage, student evaluation and student achievement.[1]

The 1970 experiment involved two equivalent groups of MDs and PhD students[2] and two different lecturers, one an actor and the other a renowned scientist. The actor donned the name Dr. Myron L. Fox and delivered a lecture on "Mathematical Game Theory as Applied to Physician Education", a subject out of the technical expertise of this group of psychology and psychiatry students.

After the lectures, the students were asked to evaluate their lecturers on effectiveness. The students were also given tests to measure their retention of the material. As expected, the students who had been lectured by the renowned scientist performed better on the tests. They were also more likely to rate the real professor more highly than the actor, provided Dr. Fox delivered the lecture in a flat and unexpressive manner. However, when both lecturers were highly expressive in their delivery of the material, students rated Dr. Fox just as highly as the real professor. This lack of correlation between content-coverage and ratings under conditions of high expressiveness is known as the Dr. Fox Effect.[3]

In a critique of student evaluations of teaching, professor of law Deborah Merritt summarized the Dr. Fox Effect as it was observed in the first experiments: "The experimenters created a meaningless lecture on 'Mathematical Game Theory as Applied to Physician Education,' and coached the actor to deliver it 'with an excessive use of double talk, neologisms, non sequiturs, and contradictory statements.' At the same time, the researchers encouraged the actor to adopt a lively demeanor, convey warmth toward his audience, and intersperse his nonsensical comments with humor. ... The actor fooled not just one, but three separate audiences of professional and graduate students. Despite the emptiness of his lecture, fifty-five psychiatrists, psychologists, educators, graduate students, and other professionals produced evaluations of Dr. Fox that were overwhelmingly positive. ... The disturbing feature of the Dr. Fox study, as the experimenters noted, is that Fox’s nonverbal behaviors so completely masked a meaningless, jargon-filled, and confused presentation."[4]

Further studies have only confirmed the initial study's conclusion. A 1980 study found that prestige of research could even be increased by confounding writing style, with research competency being positively correlated to reading difficulty.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Donald H. Naftulin, John E. Ware, Jr., and Frank A. Donnelly, "The Doctor Fox Lecture: A Paradigm of Educational Seduction", Journal of Medical Education 48 (1973): 630-635; R. Williams and J. Ware, "Validity of student ratings of instruction under different incentive conditions: A further study of the Dr. Fox effect", Journal of Educational Psychology 68 (1976): 48–56.
  2. ^ Mikhail Simkin. "PhDs couldn't tell an actor from a renowned scientist - Web Exclusive Article". Significance Magazine. Retrieved 2014-08-22. 
  3. ^ "The Dr. Fox effect: a study of lecturer effectiveness and ratings of instruction.". Retrieved 2008-12-25. 
  4. ^ "Bias, the Brain, and Student Evaluations of Teaching", Merritt, Deborah J. (2008) St. John's Law Review: Vol. 82: Iss. 1, Article 6. .
  5. ^ ""Unintelligible Management Research and Academic Prestige" by J. Scott Armstrong". Repository.upenn.edu. 2007-06-15. Retrieved 2014-08-22. 

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