The purpose of this investigation is to determine whether verbal or nonverbal cues have a more dominant influence when forming first impressions of teachers and presenters. An interest in this topic arose while studying Stage 2 Psychology, raising awareness of the importance of impression formation in building positive relationships with others. The investigation will be beneficial for teachers and presenters, to acquire information on the most effective communicative cues to promote and establish a positive first impression. The question, ‘To what extent are nonverbal cues more effective than verbal cues in the formation of a positive first impression of a teacher or presenter?’ is proposed to investigate this issue.
The sample group for this study will consist of thirty-six Year 12 Psychology students from a high school in Adelaide. To gain in-depth language rich data, a qualitative design will be implemented. Focus Group discussions will be used to determine which nonverbal and verbal cues are more predominate and effective when forming a first impression. Participants will be separated into four focus groups, allocating a facilitator within each group to promote and direct discussion, whilst a nominated scribe will record all responses.
A content analysis will be used to analyse the results. This involves identifying similarities in the data and assigning core themes based upon commonalities. A table will be created to display core themes, an illustrative example and an accumulative frequency value. To facilitate easy analysis and evaluation of the results, the frequency count will be converted into a percentage value constructed and displayed in a pie graph. The research question will be supported and determine the magnitude of nonverbal cues being more effective than verbal, if the percentage value of nonverbal cues in impression formation are greater than verbal cues.
Figure 1: Table of Frequency of Core Themes
CORE THEME EXAMPLE FREQUENCY
NON-VERBAL CUES Personal traits Physical appearance 90
Interactions Body language 111
Paralinguistics Voice tone 46
VERBAL CUES Semantics Wording used 38
Knowledge Relevance to topic 16
Expressive level Enthusiasm 29
Content Analysis of Question 3: ‘Which cues, verbal or non-verbal are to be considered more crucial when forming an impression related to the effectiveness of a teacher, instructor, or presenter?’
109093041830200Figure 2: Frequency count represented as a percentage value.
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igure 2 compares the individual core themes representing verbal and non-verbal cues. Verbal core themes are presented in shades of blue and non-verbal in shades orange.
In our society, the creation of a positive first impression significantly influences how an individual is treated and viewed; being pivotal to one’s success in the workplace and social standing. Substantial research has affirmed the importance of first impressions, suggesting eight ensuing positive encounters are required to alter an initial negative impression. Subsequently, this investigation will be beneficial for teachers and presenters to ascertain which cues will promote and establish the most effective first impression, when presenting to an audience. The question, ‘To what extent are nonverbal cues more effective than verbal cues in the formation of a positive first impression of a teacher or presenter?’ was established to investigate this issue.
In this qualitative study, data from thirty-eight participants was collected through four focus group discussions. Each group discussed their opinions to pre-established questions relating to impression formation while the allocated scribe recorded responses. A Content Analysis established core themes within the categories of verbal and nonverbal cues. Verbal cues include Semantics, Knowledge, Expressive level and nonverbal cues are Personal Traits, Interactions, and Paralinguistics. This process allowed a comparison between verbal and nonverbal cues and observations between individual core themes to be made.
The findings of the Content Analysis are displayed in a table. A pie graph was constructed to display the collected data for each core theme through percentage values. The variance in percentage values between the core themes determined and visually exemplified the magnitude of the extent of which nonverbal cues are more influential than verbal cues in impression formation.
The results from the study indicate a larger percentage of nonverbal cores themes represented 75% of the responses, whilst comparatively verbal core themes represented 25% of the responses, indicating nonverbal cues are 50% more effective in the formation of a positive first impression of a teacher or presenter.
According to Figure 2, the most significant nonverbal core theme Interactions represented 34% of responses, indicating one in three people form their impressions of a teacher or presenter based on cues such as one’s body language. The core theme Personal Traits, involving impressions formed by one’s physical appearance, proved the next substantial nonverbal cue, represented by 27% of responses. The least significant form of nonverbal cue exemplified by the core theme Paralinguistics represented 14% of responses, indicating one in seven people form their impressions of a teacher or presenter based on cues such as emphasis on tone. Notably, the core themes of Interactions or Personal Traits individually represent a greater proportion to that of the totalled verbal core theme responses, thus indicating the significance of these particular forms of nonverbal communication in impression formation.
The results in Figure 2, suggest the most prevalent verbal core theme Semantics represented 11% of the responses, indicating one in nine people form their impressions of a teacher or presenter based on cues involving the meaning of words used. Furthermore, the results indicate the verbal core Expressive Level, involving one’s enthusiasm, is less important in the impression formation process, representing only 9% of responses. The least influential form of verbal communication Knowledge represented only 5% of responses, demonstrating only one in twenty people form their impressions of a teacher or presenter based on cues such as one’s grasp of content and expertise.
It can be concluded from the obtained results that nonverbal cues are significantly more persuasive when forming a first impression of a teacher or presenter, thus answering the research question in the affirmative. The conclusion infers that students and audiences form a first impression primarily based on nonverbal signals and this impression will be profoundly influenced by attributes such as posture, gestures, appearance and facial expressions.
The conclusion cannot be generalised to represent the whole population due to the biased sample group. Thirty-six Year 12 Psychology students from one Adelaide high school is unrepresentative of a broad cross-section of the population; lacking both size and diversity. The predominately female-based sample exemplifies a gender bias which skewed the results; females are more judging of a person’s physical characteristics when formulating an impression. The sample fails to equivalently represent the male demographic and their perspective, consequently reducing the validity of results obtained. Furthermore, the commonalities of participants; similar age, studying Psychology, from one high school indicates that all participants share common interests and perceptions. Additionally, bias may have been further reinforced with participants having recently completed the topic of Social Cognition; with increasing awareness of the influence of nonverbal cues in impression formation. Therefore students may have inadvertently been influenced by this knowledge when providing their feedback. To reduce bias and increase the external validity of this study, the inclusion of a larger sample is recommended. The equal distribution of female to male participants should be adhered to, with participants representative of varying ages and institutions, where teaching and presenting are commonplace.
Utilising a qualitative design increased the validity of the results by allowing meaningful data to be obtained from a sample, who are regularly exposed to teachers and presenters. The Focus Group method facilitated a thorough discussion on impression formation, whereby participants could discuss their ideas and build off the opinions of others. Furthermore, the study being conducted in a familiar environment encouraged students to feel comfortable in sharing their perceptions, with the classroom setting prompting recent experiences of impression formation of teachers. The use of four Focus Groups enabled separate discussions to be conducted under the same conditions; with consistencies in data obtained from each group reinforcing the reliability of the results. The Content Analysis completed collectively, strengthened the reliability of the data. Additionally, the easy identification of data as either verbal or non-verbal cues indicated the overall results are unlikely to change if the Content Analysis was performed by an independent group of researchers.
Some aspects of this investigation decreased the validity and reliability of the results. The pre-established questions discussed in each Focus Group contained sophisticated complex language which may have resulted in some individuals having difficulty in formulating valid responses. The presence of dominant individuals within the group could have led to other participant’s responses being omitted, dismissed or ignored. Moreover, participants may have conformed to the opinions of confident and knowledgeable group members; modifying or altering their own perceptions to mirror group norms. The allocation of an adult facilitator to each discussion group could have improved the validity of the results, by encouraging an equal contribution from all participants and clarifying any misconceptions of the pre-established questions. Whilst, the school environment encouraged students to reflect accurately and honestly on the effectiveness of their teachers; a causal relationship between cues and the impression formed is difficult to establish due to the design and nature of the investigation. Exposing the same sample group of participants to a wider range of teachers and presenters would assist to ascertain if their contributions are consistent. The validity and reliability of this design could be improved, by conducting a parallel study with a more diverse Focus Group to observe if there is a correlation between results, which will strengthen the outcome produced by this study.
The ethical safeguard of Voluntary Participation was breached during this school-based investigation as the student cohort, studying stage two Psychology, were coerced into participating. The researcher instructed that the ensuing assignment would contribute significantly towards their grade, therefore participation in the investigation was imperative. This ethical consideration potentially decreased the validity of the results, with some participants feeling pressured and responsible to produce valid information during the open-ended discussion. Consequently, participants may not have provided truthful and honest opinions, fabricating responses to gain the teacher’s favour. The researcher also breached the Do No Harm ethical principal, failing to ensure the protection of the emotional welfare of the vulnerable cohort. The lack of adult presence meant the sensitive topic of impression formation, which raises issues pertaining to body image, was discussed with no one responsible for observing potential distress of discomfort. However, the researcher successfully adhered to the ethical safeguard of Debriefing; ensuring at the conclusion of the research, participants obtained appropriate information about the study, including procedures and results, leaving them satisfied their time was not wasted. Conducting the investigation with the incorporation of an adult facilitator, and offering an alternative option to gain insight into the study rather than coercing participants to partake would assist in reducing the ethical breaches.
The results of this study conclude nonverbal cues are more effective than verbal cues in establishing a positive first impression of a teacher or presenter, thus supporting the research question to a significant extent. The sample group would need to include diverse characteristics to reflect a broader cross-section of the community and increase the external validity of this conclusion. This investigation is a useful secondary source, to support and strengthen other more valid investigations on the cues that determine a positive first impression.
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