Dr. Fox Experiments

The Dr. Fox effect is when a lecturer or teacher, for example, is given a high student evaluation because of their charisma, their entertainment value and their enthusiasm in the subject, rather than their value in terms of educational content. 

Introductory Reference

Abrami,P.C., Leventhal,L. & Perry,R.P. (1982) "Educational Seduction" Review of Educational Research vol.52 no.3 pp.446-464 (1)

This introductory paper will provide you with background information and evidence on the Dr. Fox experiments, including the very first situation where this effect was found. It looks across many studies and gives an overall view of the case of the Dr. Fox effect. This is a very good paper for someone to get a grasp of what the Dr. Fox effect is and what research has found in the area.

Summary of Dr. Fox Effect

Background - The original Dr. Fox ‘effect’ was found during an experiment in 1973 by Naftulin, Ware, and Donnelly and this is where the name comes from. In their very first experiment they used an actor called Michael Fox to take the lectures and they decided to name the phenomenon after him.

They found that, no matter what the content of a lecture, it is the type of lecturer that affects student’s ratings of the lecture as a whole. It was found that the lecturer’s wit and personality can make the students think they have learned and therefore they will give a high rating.

Effect on ‘learning’ – It has been found that the ‘seductiveness’ of the lecturer can also have an effect on how much an individual learns. Ware and Williams (1977) (2). Studies have explored the idea that if the lecturer has received a good rating from an individual, then that individual will also perform well on tests on that subject. ‘Dynamic’ rather than ‘static’ lecturers are significantly linked with better results being achieved in tests by students (Coats & Smidchens, 1966)(3). But is this evidence sufficient?

Validity of Dr. Fox – From the various studies that have looked into the effect of the lecturer on student ratings and student performance, we can see that there is evidence for a relationship between high lecturer entertainment and high student ratings and feedback. There is also evidence for a relationship between high student lecturer ratings and high student performance on tasks relating to the lectures. However, these relationships have both been questioned by Williams and Ware (1976) (4). It has been found that lecturer expressiveness did not significantly effect achievement and any ratings by students were based on content of the lecturer rather than their energy and personality.

Conclusions - This leads questions on the validity of the Dr. Fox experiments. There is too much conflicting evidence on the actual effect of different lecturing methods and different content levels. There is not sufficient evidence in one direction that would force education governments to adopt different teaching strategies.

Further Reading

In order to get some more in depth information on the Dr. Fox experiments and to explore some studies on the topic, these papers would be a good place to start:

1. Meier, R.S. & Feldhusen, J.F. (1979) Another look at Dr. Fox: Effect of stated purpose for evaluation, lecturer expressiveness, and density of lecture content on student ratings, Journal of Educational Psychology 71 (3), 339-345.

2. Marsh, H.W. & Ware, J.E. (1982) Effects of expressiveness, content coverage, and incentive on multidimensional student rating scales: New interpretations of the Dr. Fox effect, Journal of Educational Psychology 74 (1), 126-134.

3. Ware, J.E. & Williams, R.G. (1975) The Dr. Fox effect: a study of lecturer effectiveness and ratings of instruction, Academic Medicine 50 (2).


(1) Naftulin, D.H., Ware, J.E., Jr., & Donnelly, F.A. The Doctor Fox lecture: A paradigm of educational seduction. Journal of Medical Education, 1973, 48, 630-635.

(2) Ware,J.E. & Williams,R.G. (1977) "The Dr. Fox effect: A study of lecturer expressiveness and ratings of instruction" Journal of Medical education vol.5 pp.149-156.

(3) Coats,W.D. & Smidchens,U. (1966) "Audience recall as a function of speaker dynamism" Journal of Educational Psychology 57(4),189-191.

(4) Williams,R.G. & Ware,J.E. (1976) "Validity of student ratings of instruction under different incentive conditions: A further study of the Dr. Fox effect" Journal of educational psychology vol.68 pp.48-56.