Social Psychology of Education

, Volume 21, Issue 1, pp 173–187 | Cite as

Changes in syllabus tone affect warmth (but not competence) ratings of both male and female instructors

  • Ashley Waggoner Denton
  • James Veloso


The syllabus is often the first meaningful piece of information that students receive about a course. Previous research has indicated that students form more positive impressions of a course instructor after reading a syllabus that has been manipulated to convey information in a friendly, rather than unfriendly, tone (Harnish and Bridges in Soc Psychol Educ 14:319–330, 2011). While a friendly syllabus leads to increased perceptions of instructor warmth and approachability, it is unclear from this previous research whether a friendly syllabus may also lead to decreases in the perceived competence of the instructor. Thus, we aimed to clarify whether changes in syllabus tone affect perceptions of instructor competency. We also wished to explore the possibility of gender bias affecting these syllabus-based impressions of instructors, and to examine whether differences in syllabus tone impact the impressions formed of male and female instructors in the same way. Participants read a friendly or unfriendly course syllabus from either a male, female, or gender-unspecified instructor. Regardless of instructor gender, participants receiving the friendly syllabus perceived the instructor as being more approachable, more caring, and more motivating, but not any more or less competent, compared to those receiving the unfriendly syllabus. While instructors will be relieved to know that efforts to appear friendly on a course syllabus do not appear to negatively impact student perceptions of instructor competence, more research is needed to examine the potential role of gender bias on students’ initial impressions of instructors.


Syllabus Tone Instructor gender Warmth Competence 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada

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