The Relationships Between Teachers' Temperament and Students' Perceptions of Teacher Communication Behavior

Kristin M. Valencic, James C. McCroskey, and Virginia P. Richmond


This study examined the predictive power of teachers' self-reported temperament (extroversion, neuroticism, and psychoticism) with regard to student perceptions of the teachers' communication in the classroom (assertiveness, responsiveness, and nonverbal immediacy). A total of 95 teachers and classes of university students participated in the study. The results indicated that increased extroversion reported by the teachers was associated with increased perceived assertiveness and nonverbal immediacy by the students. These results indicate that genetically based brain systems may impact teachers' communication behaviors in ways that result in differential perceptions of the teachers' behavior by the teachers' students. 

Teacher-student relationships in the classroom can either facilitate or inhibit student learning. The ways teachers and students communicate with each other both impact those relationships and are modified by the relationships. Research in instructional communication has investigated several aspects of teacher communication behavior with respect to their impact on students' attitudes toward their teachers as well as their impact on student learning. The two aspects of teacher communication behavior investigated in the current research were the socio-communicative style of teachers and teachers' nonverbal immediacy with students.

Socio-communicative Orientation and Socio-communicative Style

The concepts of socio-communicative orientation (SCO) and socio-communicative style (SCS) were advanced by McCroskey and Richmond (1996) as basic elements of communication competence. Both are seen as being evidenced by assertive and responsive communication. Socio-communicative orientation is represented by self-perceived patterns of assertiveness and responsiveness. Socio-communicative style is represented by assertive and responsive communication patterns observed by others. Both are commonly measured (employing either self-report or other-report instructions) by the Assertiveness-Responsiveness Measure (Richmond & McCroskey, 1990). Socio-communicative orientations were not included in the present study.

The first aspect of teacher communication behavior examined in this research was socio-communicative style. Socio-communicative style (SCS) focuses on one individual's assessment of another person's use of assertive and responsive communication behaviors (McCroskey & Richmond, 1996). An individual who stands up for his or her own rights, expresses himself or herself in ways that do not compromise others' rights, and is able to make requests is considered assertive (Richmond & McCroskey, 1995). Responsiveness refers to an individual's reaction to others. Responsive behaviors include demonstrating understanding, listening, empathy, and compassion.

Socio-communicative style has been found to have major impacts in the instructional context (Cole & McCroskey, 2000; Martin, Chesebro, & Mottet, 1997; Myers & Avtgis, 1997; Thomas, Richmond, & McCroskey, 1994; Richmond & Martin, 1998; Wooten & McCroskey, 1996). For example, Wooten and McCroskey (1996) reported that students' perceptions of their teacher's assertiveness and responsiveness had a significant impact on whether the students trusted their teacher. When students perceived their teachers as high in assertiveness and responsiveness they had higher interpersonal trust with those teachers. Additionally, when students themselves were high in assertiveness and perceived teachers as assertive and responsive, the level of trust they had for their teacher was even higher. 

Thomas, Richmond, and McCroskey (1994) defined socio-communicative style as communication behaviors which lead observers to "gain insight into the personality of individuals by taking note of their characteristic communication behaviors" (p. 109). Thus, the socio-communicative style literature suggests important differences in personality structures of assertive and non-assertive individuals. 

Nonverbal Immediacy

The term immediacy was first coined by Mehrabian (1969) as behaviors that would "enhance closeness to and nonverbal interaction with another" (p. 213). Andersen (1979) took Mehrabian's concept a step further by advancing the concept of nonverbal immediacy. These behaviors included moving around the room while teaching, making eye contact while talking, using gestures while talking to students, using appropriate touch, having a relaxed body position while talking, using a variety of vocal expressions, smiling, nodding, maintaining eye contact, spending time with students, and dressing appropriately.

Numerous studies have found that teacher immediacy has a positive impact on student learning (Chesebro & McCroskey, 2001; Christensen & Menzel, 1998; Christophel, 1990; Comstock, Rowell, & Bower, 1995; Gorham, 1988; Kelley & Gorham, 1998; McCroskey, Richmond, Sallinen, Fayer, & Barraclough, 1995; McCroskey, Sallinen, Fayer, Richmond, & Barraclough, 1996; Moore, Masterson, Christophel, & Shea, 1996; Plax, Kearney, McCroskey, & Richmond, 1986; Richmond, Gorham, & McCroskey, 1987; Rodriguez, Plax, & Kearney, 1996; Sanders & Wiseman, 1990; Thomas, 1994). Nonverbal immediacy research has been found to be positively related to students' affective learning, cognitive learning, and learning loss (which is the perceived difference in learning between the actual teacher and an ideal teacher). Since teacher immediacy increases student learning and is associated with a decrease in student learning loss, teachers would benefit from attempting to incorporate more immediate communication into their instruction to increase affective and cognitive learning. Teacher nonverbal immediacy has also been studied with regard to student temperament (Heisel, McCroskey, & Richmond, 1999). No significant relationship was found between nonverbal immediacy of teachers and student temperament, as should be the case unless student temperament impacts their perceptions of teacher behavior. Student reports of teacher immediacy do not appear to be a function of the students' temperament.


For decades, scholars have debated about the diversity of personality traits. Most scholars now agree there are between three and eight dimensions of personality, normally referred to as "super traits" or "temperament." Three of these temperament dimensions are genetically based (Gray, 1991). In 1990, Eysenck concluded that extraversion (E), neuroticism (N), and psychoticism (P) are the genetic bases of individuals' behavior. The three components measure the degree to which a person is cooperative and sociable (E), fearfully avoids (N), and is hostile or aggressive (P). One of the earliest communibiological study examined communication apprehension in relation to Eysenck's (1990) dimensions of E and N (Beatty, McCroskey, & Heisel, 1998). Communication apprehension was found to be highly correlated with E and N. Low levels of extraversion and high levels of neuroticism depict the communication apprehensive person. A second study (Valencic, Beatty, Rudd, Dobos, & Heisel, 1998) has found that verbal aggressiveness is significantly correlated with psychoticism. About 30 percent of the variance in trait verbal aggression scores is accounted for when employing a regression model using N x P, and additional 30% of the variance is accounted for when using E x P. These results are consistent with Beatty and McCroskey's (1997) argument that a balance between BIS and FFS activity is needed for trait verbal aggressiveness. There are three neurobiological systems associated with E, N, and P. The behavioral activation system (BAS) is associated with E, the behavioral inhibition system (BIS) is associated with N, and the fight or flight system (FFS) is associated with P (Beatty & McCroskey, 1997; Gray, 1990).

Another study examined shyness and teacher immediacy with Eysenck's E, N, and P measures (Heisel, McCroskey, & Richmond, 1999). When 214 participants reported their levels of shyness on the McCroskey Shyness Scale (McCroskey & Richmond, 1982), results indicated that shyness is significantly correlated with E and N, but not P. A regression using E, N, and P to predict shyness was used to further test these relationships and accounted for 45% of the variance. While E and N accounted for variance in the equation, P did not. Such results provide additional support for findings by Beatty, McCroskey, and Heisel (1998). These studies have established a strong link between an individual's temperament and their communication orientations. The present study took the relationship between temperament and communication a step farther and sought to determine the extent to which the genetically based temperament of one individual (a teacher) could produce communication behaviors (of the teacher) which would be recognized by the communication receiver (students).


According to Cole and McCroskey (2000), both assertive and responsive dimensions of socio-communicative orientations are strongly related to temperament. Specifically, E was found to be significantly correlated with assertiveness (r=.67, p<.0001) and responsiveness (r=.62, p<.0001), while P was negatively correlated with responsiveness (r= -.80, p<.0001). Hence, the more extroversion self-reported, the more assertively and responsively the participants rated their communication. As individuals rated themselves as more psychotic, the less responsiveness they self-reported. 

In a similar study, Cole (2000) found that individuals who rate themselves higher in E report using more immediate nonverbal behaviors. E is positively correlated with nonverbal immediacy (r=.51, p<.001). Conversely, individuals rating themselves high in N and P report using fewer nonverbally immediate behaviors. N and P were found to be negatively correlated with nonverbal immediacy (r= -.20, p<.01; r= -.47, p<.0001).

The correlations observed in these studies are known as "spurious" correlations (Ozer, 1985). They do not indicate that temperament "causes" communication orientations, or the communication orientations "cause" temperament. Rather, these correlations suggest that temperament and communication orientations are both caused by a third factor. In this instance the third factor is brain systems which control both temperament and communication orientations and behaviors. These brain systems are genetically based (Beatty & McCroskey, 2001; Eysenck, 1990; Gray, 1991). 

This study was designed to investigate relationships among teachers' self-reports of their own temperament and the ways those teachers are seen to communicate by their students. Since strong associations of temperament with socio-communicative orientations and nonverbal immediacy exist, it is likely that student responses to a questionnaire concerning teachers' communication behavior can be predicted, at least to some extent, by a teacher's self-reported levels of E, N, and P. If so, this would indicate a link between the genetically based brain structures the teachers, estimated by their own self-reports of their temperament, and the students' perceptions of the teachers' communication behaviors. Further, these relationships would likely be directionally consistent with the previous research indicating relationships between individuals' self-reports of their temperament and their self-reports of their own communication orientations (Cole, 2000; Cole & McCroskey, 2000). 

Finding people's temperaments are associated with their own communication orientations is no longer surprising. However, finding that teachers' temperaments are associated with their students' perceptions of their communication behavior would break new ground. The presumed causal pattern is that the genetically based brain structures of one individual (the teacher) generate communication behaviors (of the teacher) which in turn generate perceptions by the receivers of those communication behaviors (the students) which are correlated with the teachers' self-reported temperaments. If observed, these would not be spurious correlations, but rather would establish a causal link between teachers' genetically influenced communication behaviors and students' perceptions of those behaviors. 
Several factors could mediate such findings. Teachers could behave in counter-temperamental ways in order to be more effective with their students (e.g., teachers could feign caring and/or responsiveness). Teachers could suppress communication behaviors which they deemed socially undesirable in order to present a different persona (e.g. teachers could avoid exhibiting nervousness or anger). In addition, students' perceptions of the teachers' communication behaviors could be based on many factors unrelated to the behaviors actually exhibited (e.g. the students' own temperament, or the teachers' nonverbal messages not directly related to the behaviors measured). 

Given the numerous factors which could mediate the relationships among teacher temperament and student perceptions of the teacher communication behavior, we chose to pose the following research questions rather than pose formal hypotheses:

RQ1: To what extent is student-perceived teacher socio-communicative style (assertiveness and responsiveness) associated with self-reported teacher temperament?

RQ2: To what extent is student-perceived teacher nonverbal immediacy associated with self-reported teacher temperament?



The predictor variables in the study were measures of teachers' self-reported temperament (extraversion, neuroticism, and psychoticism). Criterion variables were student perceptions of their teacher's assertiveness, responsiveness, and nonverbal immediacy. The design of the study required a "by group" analysis, since including scores for each teacher with each of their students would artificially inflate the power of the study. Hence, means for the students in each class on each criterion variable were computed and paired with the temperament scores for each teacher. Hence, the number of "student responses" was equal to the number of teachers/classes (N = 95) rather than the number of students participating.


Participants were 95 instructors and 1122 undergraduate students at a large Mid-Atlantic university. Approximately half of the students in each class participated in this study (M = 11.8) while the remainder completed questionnaires for a different study. Involvement in the study was voluntary and anonymous. Participants provided data in accordance with the Institutional Review Board of the university.

Data Collection

The instructor of each class was asked to complete measures of extraversion, neuroticism, and psychoticism. The students in each class received a questionnaire asking them to rate their perceptions of the teacher's assertiveness, responsiveness, and nonverbal immediacy. Surveys were administered by the same individual for all classes. All classes completed questionnaires within a two week time period between midterm and finals.


Socio-communicative style. Student perceptions of their teacher's socio-communicative style (assertiveness and responsiveness) were determined using the twenty-item Assertiveness-Responsiveness Measure (Richmond & McCroskey, 1990). The instrument includes ten items measuring assertiveness and ten items representing responsiveness. On the scale the items are mixed, but they have been found to generate two separate, uncorrelated factors (Martin & Anderson, 1996; Richmond & McCroskey, 1990). Coefficient alphas have been reported to be .87 for assertiveness and .89 for responsiveness (Anderson & Martin, 1995). The present study had alphas of .84 for assertiveness and .93 for responsiveness.

Nonverbal immediacy measure. The Nonverbal Immediacy Measure (Richmond, Gorham, & McCroskey, 1987) has been found to be reliable and have predictive validity between students and teachers (Gorham & Zakahi, 1990; McCroskey, Sallinen, Fayer, Richmond, & Barraclough, 1996). Students have been found to accurately predict their teachers' nonverbal immediacy ratings when student ratings and instructor self-ratings were compared. The revised ten-item measure (McCroskey, Sallinen, Fayer, Richmond, & Barraclough, 1996) was used in this study. Alpha reliability for the scale in previous research has ranged from .70 to .85, and in this study was .83.

Extraversion. Extraversion (E) of teachers was measured using the ten-item instrument developed by Eysenck and Eysenck (1985) and employed a three point response format (1 = Strongly disagree, 2 = Neutral/Undecided, 3 = Strongly agree). Only one extraversion item was reverse coded, primarily because the set of items was derived from factor analysis and nine of the highest loaders were phrased such that agreement indicated extraversion. Eysenck and Eysenck's (1985) extraversion measure has been used extensively and its validity and reliability, as well as its link to specific brain activity, are well established. Cronbach's alpha has been found to range between .80 and .82, and was .78 in the current study.

Neuroticism. Neuroticism (N) of teachers was measured using Eysenck and Eysenck's (1985) ten-item measure with a three point response format. All ten of these items were phrased such that agreement indicated neurotic tendencies. Eysenck's neuroticism measure has also demonstrated good reliability and validity, and linkage with specific brain activity, in previous research (Eysenck & Eysenck, 1985). Cronbach's alpha has been found to range between .81 and .86, and was .80 in the present study.

Psychoticism. Psychoticism (P) of teachers was measured using eleven items from the revised twelve-item scale developed by Eysenck, Eysenck, and Barrett (1985). Six of the items were reverse coded. The original psychoticism instrument demonstrated low reliability (Eysenck & Eysenck, 1985), but the revised scale (Eysenck, Eysenck, & Barrett, 1985) has shown acceptable reliability, validity, and linkage to specific brain activity. Cronbach's alpha has been found to range between .49 and .76. In the current study the alpha reliability was .62. One item which referenced the use of drugs, was not included in this study (in accordance with human subject guidelines), which may explain why the reliability in this study was somewhat lower than in some previous research.

Results and Conclusions

Answers to the two research questions were generated by use of bivariate Pearson correlations. Some of the instruments generated less than optimal reliabilities. Hence, significant correlations were also disattenuated. 

The results for the relationship between teacher temperament and student reports of teacher socio-communicative style were mixed. The obtained correlation between extroversion and assertiveness was r=.37 (disattenuated r=.46). This correlation was statistically significant (p<.001). The correlation between extroversion and responsiveness (r=.23) was not statistically significant. The obtained correlations of neuroticism and psychoticism with assertiveness and responsiveness were all trivial (+.12 to -.13) and not statistically significant (p >.05).

The results for the relationship between teacher temperament and student perceived teacher nonverbal immediacy also were mixed. The obtained correlation between extroversion and nonverbal immediacy was statistically significant (r=.36, p<.001; disattenuated r=.45). The correlations of neuroticism and psychoticism with nonverbal immediacy, however, were trivial (.05 and .04 respectively) and nonsignificant.

Clearly, the extroversion component of temperament is significantly associated with both teacher assertiveness and teacher nonverbal immediacy. Just as clearly, the other components of temperament are unrelated to these teacher communication variables as seen by the teachers' students. If we consider some of the reservations which were indicated earlier, the lack of significant relationships for neuroticism and psychoticism might have been expected. Both of these temperaments include aspects that are not socially desirable, and teachers are very likely to be choosing to communicate in socially desirable ways when teaching students. Hence, the motivation for behaving in counter-temperamental ways likely is strong in this context. The same teachers may behave very differently with their colleagues and families, where the social desirability aspect may be seen as less relevant. 

The bottom line of this study is clear. At least one genetically based brain system seems to have sufficient influence on the communication behavior of teachers to have an impact on how the teachers' communication is perceived by their students. So while the age-old question concerning whether good teachers are born or trained has not been answered, there one more piece of evidence that favors the "born" perspective. 


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Copyright (c) K. M. Valencic, J. C. McCroskey, V. P. Richmond, 2005