We've had several questions on this site along the lines of "What should students call me" or "What should I call my professor" (e.g How to sign your email to students, so to avoid their immature behavior? and several others). It's not only here; for example, I recently read a comment on another website which asserts

at least in the sciences, it’s probably important that women use the “Prof” title, since there is a tendency for students to view their female professors as people who are “more approachable” and “more friendly” than the male professors– which can cause trouble when evaluation time comes, as students are less forgiving of the “mom figure” than the white male imposing arrogant professor figure. (I was surprised to find out about this effect when told about it several years ago by a couple of female professors, but I’ve heard about it enough now that my impression is that it’s a pretty general effect.)

I've heard this kind of thing in comments on other sites, too (e.g. here). I know many people have opinions, educated guesses, or relevant personal experiences, but I'm specifically asking for research on this subject. (I looked, but couldn't find anything relevant.)

Has there been any formal study on whether there is a relationship (causal or not) between how an instructor prefers to be addressed, and students' evaluations of that instructor?

I'm looking for a research study that answers questions like:

  • Do instructors that use a formal title like "Professor" or "Doctor" receive measurably different reviews than instructors that use their first name?
  • What effect (if any) does gender, race, age, academic discipline, or department culture, have on the above relationship?
  • Is there any evidence of a causal relationship here? Possible intermediate factors?
  • Does using a formal title have any mitigating effect with respect to the negative effect on student evaluations of being an instructor that is young, gender minority, racial minority, etc.?
  • 3
    There seems to be quite a bit of research about gender bias and teaching evaluations. However, I have always been skeptical of the advice "females should have their students call them professor". To me it seems like a pretty strong claim that being called professor will help remove most of a student's biases towards different genders. So great question, I am interested if there is any research backing up that statement also. Mar 16, 2015 at 19:10
  • 2
    Mmm... maybe it would be better to add a united-states tag, because there are countries where you wouldn't call a professor in any other way than "Professor", irregardless of age, gender etc.
    – Massimo Ortolano
    Mar 16, 2015 at 20:31
  • @MassimoOrtolano I don't think the US is the only place where professors might be addressed by first name, so I don't see any reason to restrict this question to studies about the US.
    – ff524
    Mar 16, 2015 at 20:34
  • 2
    Have you seen the data visualization of gendered language in teaching reviews? Mar 17, 2015 at 1:06
  • @Fuhrmanator I have... interesting stuff, though most words I tried don't appear often enough overall to draw any meaningful conclusions.
    – ff524
    Mar 17, 2015 at 1:13

1 Answer 1


Multiple lines of relevant research suggest, as you said,

  1. recognition of job titles specifically correlates strongly to compliance, and
  2. knowledge of an authority's gender significantly shapes the likelihood of compliance in subjects relying on that authority.

The closest fit (to the inquiries you propose in your question) in a single publication was Eagly, Alice H. Gender and social influence: A social psychological analysis. American Psychologist 38.9 (1983): 971. There is too much here to cite. Alice Eagly enters into a rigorous investigation of compliance's relationship to gender in vein of Professor Stanley Milgram's exemplary methods on the psychology of obedience to authority (Milgram, Stanley. Obedience to authority 1978). The report finds (from p. 2 of PDF):

Table 1: Mean Perceived Likelihood of Recipient's Behavioural Compliance Other subjects in this experiment were given information about the job titles as well as the gender of the communicator and recipient. Both high-status (e.g., bank vice-president) and low-status (e.g., bank teller) job titles were utilized. In these experimental conditions, subjects were expected to base their judgments about social influence on the job title information rather than gender because gender would not be used to infer hierarchical status in the presence of the highly informative job title cues. (2) As expected (see Table 1), these subjects considered the communicator's recommendation more likely to induce compliance when the communicator had a high-status rather than low-status job title and when the recipient had a low-status rather than high-status job title. These subjects did not utilize the gender cues to predict compliance

  1. The effects of gender and status cues on perceived influence were expected to depend on whether the recipient's response to influence was public or private. Because the power of persons who have higher status in organizations stems primarily from their control over sanctions and access to resources, status differences favoring the communicator should increase subordinates' public compliance, and private, internalized opinion change should be relatively unaffected (Kelman, 1961). Indeed, those few effects that were obtained on subjects' beliefs about private opinion change were weak and reversed effects obtained on perceived compliance (see Eagly, A. H., & Wood, W. Inferred sex differences in status as a determinant of gender stereotypes about social influence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1982, 43. 915-928.).

Eagly, Alice H., Mona G. Makhijani, and Bruce G. Klonsky. Gender and the evaluation of leaders: A meta-analysis. Psychological bulletin 111.1 (1992): 3. finds further:

[…] on the evaluation of women and men that occupy leadership roles. While holding the characteristics, except for sex, constant and varying the sex of the leader, these experiments investigated whether people are biased against female leaders and managers. Although this research showed only a small overall tendency for Ss to evaluate female leaders less favorably than male ones, this tendency was more pronounced under certain circumstances. Specifically, women in leadership positions were devalued relative to their male counterparts when leadership was carried out in stereotypically masculine styles, especially when this style was autocratic or directive. Also, the devaluation of women was greater when leaders occupied male-dominated roles and when the evaluators were men. Findings are interpreted from a perspective that emphasizes the influence of gender roles within organizational settings.

Eagly, Alice H., and Wendy Wood. Inferred sex differences in status as a determinant of gender stereotypes about social influence. Journal of personality and social psychology 43.5 (1982): 915. is also highly relevant, but it is subsumed in the primary study cited.

Student-disciplinary investigation also corroborates this gendered relationship in students' regard for teachers. Mabeba, M. Z., and E. Prinsloo. Perceptions of discipline and ensuing discipline problems in secondary education. South African Journal of Education 20.1 (2000): 34-41. reports:

The lack of discipline in secondary schools throughout the country has long been a matter of great concern for educators in South Africa. Numerous attempts have been made to solve the problem and to re-establish a culture of effective learning and teaching in the schools. Discipline in education, however, is a complex phenomenon that may evade the accuracy of one single definition. Discipline in a positive sense refers to learning, regulated scholarship, guidance and orderliness. Discipline problems, refers to disruptive behaviour that affects the fundamental rights to feel safe, to be treated with respect and to learn. Rejection of reasoning, noise, physical violence, threat, theft, graffiti and vandalism, verbal abuse, lack of consideration, boisterousness, and disrespect for authority are some of the manifestations of disruptive behaviour that teachers and parents have to deal with presently. Reasons for this negative attitude lie inter alia in pupils feelings of anger, frustration and worthlessness because educators seemingly neglect their interests and level of development and often base disciplinary policies on autocratic principles and self-interest. The purpose of this investigation was to determine the perceptions held of discipline by all the stakeholders in the education process and to verify the reasons for the defiance of discipline by pupils and students. The ultimate aim of such research would be to initiate preventative strategies that can solve the problem and support pupils and teachers towards a new culture of successful learning and teaching.


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