Students’ Implicit Theories of University Professors

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Abstract

Drawing on prior analyses of (a) students’ perceptions of professors and (b) followers’ intuitive assumptions about leaders, we predicted that students’ implicit professor theories (IPTs) would include such core attributes as intelligence, sensitivity, and dedication, but that these implicit theories would vary over time: Students’ IPTs at the start of the semester would be more likely to emphasize task-related features, such as dedication and intelligence. At the semester’s end, in contrast, students’ IPTs would emphasize socioemotional considerations, such as sensitivity and helpfulness. Students’ spontaneous descriptions of professors, as well as their ratings of professors on a series of fixed-response measures, partly supported these predictions. The most frequently noted qualities were knowledgeable, intelligent, and approachable, followed by helpful and enthusiastic. Effective professors were rated more positively than typical professors overall, and this positivity was more pronounced at the start of the semester for ratings of dedication, fairness, manipulativeness, and insensitivity. Given previous findings that suggest leaders who match followers’ implicit theories are rated more positively than those who do not, these findings suggest that professors who exhibit qualities that match their students’ IPTs will be rated more positively than those who do not.

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