Experimenter Expectancy Effect On Children in a Classroom Setting
Rosenthal and Jacobson (1966) sought to test the experimenter expectancy
effect by examining how much of an outcome teachers' expectancies could have on
a group of children. Earlier investigations in this area were also conducted by
Rosenthal (1963). He worked with children in a research lab, giving each one a
rat and telling them it was either bred for intelligence or for dullness. The
children were put in charge of teaching the rats how to learn mazes.
Rosenthal's results showed that the rats that were believed by the students to
be smart, were able to learn the mazes much quicker. What the children did not
know, i.e., what Rosenthal had kept hidden, was that the rats were chosen at
random. There were no rats that were especially bright or dull. Another case
of the experimenter expectancy effect was that of the horse known as "Clever
Hans". It seemed to be able to read, spell, and solve math problems by kicking
his leg a number of times. The horse was tested and passed, but what the
experts did not realize was that their own hopes for the horse to answer the
questions, were giving the horse signs on which he based his answers. That is,
if someone on the committee raised his/her eyebrows in anticipation of the
oncoming correct answer, the horse would stop stomping. Once again, the
experimenter's cues decided the outcome of the tests. Acting on these results,
Rosenthal and Jacobson hypothesized that teacher's expectancies would cause them
unintentionally to treat the students they thought to be bright in a different
manner than those they thought to be average or even less bright.
Rosenthal and Jacobson used some materials that were important in the
completing their investigation. The experimenters used students and their
teachers as the subjects of their study. As part of their experiment, they even
chose which grades the students would be in. They also used Flanagan's Tests of
General Ability as a disguise to predict academic expectancies. The
experimenters did not use anything else in their experiment but instead let
their subjects do the rest. Rosenthal and Jacobson's goal was to see how
teachers would treat students whom they thought were of above average
intelligence in comparison to how they treated students whom they believed were
of below average intelligence.
As with all experiments, there needed to be variables. In trying to
test teacher's expectancies, Rosenthal and Jacobson used labels for children as
their independent variable. The labels used were "bloomers" for children who
were expected to be above average, while the other group of children were
labeled as average. Rosenthal and Jacobson wanted to see how children being
labeled as dull or bright would contribute to how teachers would react to them.
The teacher's reaction tended to be in the form of giving the bright children
more attention and expecting them to score higher grades and perform better in
class. Because the teacher's reaction depends on how the children were labeled,
it was dependent on the first variable. The teacher's reactions to the
children's labels, was the experimenter's dependent variable.
Rosenthal and Jacobson controlled every aspect of the experiment. They
chose which children would be seen as dull or bright by having scores from
Flanagan's Test of General Ability sent to the teachers. They also chose which
grades of children would be used and which teachers would be in the experiment.
The experimenters maintained a high degree of control, and they told no one else
of what they were really studying.
The children in the experimental group averaged 12.2 points of
improvement in their intellectual growth. The students in the control group
averaged 8.2 points of intellectual growth. Reporting the average is not an
accurate way of showing the difference in IQ point increases though. The third
through sixth grade reported almost no difference in the gains, but the first
and second grades differed as much as 15 points. The difference in scores shows
the effect that teachers can have on their students. Particularly in the first
and second grades, the amount that teachers expect from their students is the
amount they will receive.
This study could be improved in a few ways. First, the students were
tested at the end of the school year with the same test they had been given to
initially decide their IQs. A different test of intelligence should be given to
the students. Being given the same test, some of the students may be given the
same questions which is an unfair advantage to them because they will know the
answers from the previous test. Another way to improve the study would be by
having the study performed in both private and public schools and by starting it
in preschool and ending it at eighth grade in stead of sixth.
Because of this survey, a consequent study was performed by Chaiken,
Sigler, and Derlega (1974). They set up a camera in a classroom in which
teachers had been informed that some of the students were gifted while others
were dull. The recording showed that teachers tended to smile more at the
supposedly gifted students, acted more favorably to their comments in class, and
made more eye contact with them. Other new research that could be performed
would be a study to see what would happen if a teacher was told his/her entire
class was either gifted or dull and see how they react to an entire class like
I have learned a lot from this article. Having a desire to become a
teacher, this article has shown me just how much of a reaction my attention to
students may have on them. I would like to become a high school or college
professor. Even though Rosenthal and Jacobson's experiment revealed that the
older the children, the less they were affected by the teacher's expectancies, I
would like to see the same experiment performed on high school children. This
would reinforce Rosenthal and Jacobson's findings and take some pressure away
from how teachers feel they have to react to older students.
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