Science Fact of the Day #2: Teacher Somatotype

As in all cases “science fact” is used losely.

In Nonverbal Behavior in Interpersonal Relations the authors observed that:

“Teachers who are ectomorphic are usually perceived by students as anxious and less composed but perhaps intelligent. The endomorphic teacher is generally perceived by students as slow, lazy, under-prepared, and not dynamic in the classroom. The mesomorphic teacher is perceived as credible, depedable, likable, and competent but possibly tough and dominant.” Virginia P Richmond and James C McCroskey, Nonverbal Behavior in Interpersonal Relations (Boston: Pearson/A and B, 2004), 269

For those who don’t know:

  1. Ectomorphs are lanky body types
  2. Endomorphs are dad-bod types
  3. Mesomorphs are beefy (muscly) types




Now, here’s where things might get interesting. In this social-psychology text several paragraphs per page will be riddled with citations. But this particular paragraph cites no studies. Is this just an observation? Is it an impression?

I don’t know. I think that it’s probably partly true. There is some research that shows similar stereotypes in the broader population toward the somatotypes (which, since they’re based on eye-balling, are basically observational, not genetic categories).

I did find research from the 80s showing that one class of students rated, based on photographs attractive teachers and female teachers higher on scales of competence, organization, and imagination.* Of course, to extend this finding further seems like a hasty generalization.

One study checked for stereotypes on the three body types and differences between the sexes both in sterotype attributed and in stereotype attribution. In this particular study, ectomorphs were perceived favorably despite historically negative stereotypes.** But over all mesomorphs were still perceived most favorably except in terms of intelligence and meanness. Big muscles can make you look stupid and like a bully, I guess. In this paricular study, there were some gender differences: female mesomorphs didn’t suffer on the perceived intelligence or kindness rating. And female endomorphs weren’t perceived as more sloppy compared to male endomorphs.

It’s important to remember that none of the observations above are about stereotype accuracy. That’s a different cake to bake.

But I will make a suggestion here: If you are of a somatotype about whom certain stereotypes are made, it is important in a professional setting to put those stereotypes to rest if your workplace requires merit as well as social credit (teaching, management, coaching, etc). If you’re not then it doesn’t matter unless those stereotypes actually hurt you socially.

*Stephen Buck and Drew Tiene, “The Impact of Physical Attractiveness, Gender, and Teaching Philosophy on Teacher Evaluations,” The Journal of Educational Research 82, no. 3 (January 1, 1989): 172–177.

**Richard M. Ryckman et al., “Male and Female Raters’ Stereotyping of Male and Female Physiques,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 15, no. 2 (June 1, 1989): 244–251.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s