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]

In the 1970 experiment, two equivalent groups of students, including psychiatrists and psychologists,[2] were given lectures varying in content coverage. After the lecture, the students were asked to evaluate the teacher on effectiveness. A test was also taken to measure the student achievement. It was observed that student achievement was higher for higher content-coverage. However, students were observed to rate high content-coverage lectures as better than low-coverage lectures only when both lectures exhibited low expressiveness. When both lectures were highly expressive, no correlation was observed. This lack of correspondence 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, in which an actor gave a lecture to a group of ten under the guise of "Dr. Myron L. Fox": "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 research[edit]

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", St. John's Law Review 82 (2008):235-287, retrieved 2008-06-22.
  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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