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Gender Bias in Student Evaluations of Teaching: Students’ Self-Affirmation Reduces the Bias by Lowering Evaluations of Male Professors

Abstract

Students evaluate male professors higher than female professors. In a study that we presented to participants as a test of a new form for student evaluations of teaching (SETs), we examined if self-affirmation (contemplating elements that positively contribute to one’s self-image) reduced the gender bias. Belgian students (n = 568), who were randomly assigned to self-affirm (through either a value-affirmation task or self-superiority priming) or not, read a vignette prompting them to imagine that they had received a good or a bad grade from a male or a female professor. They evaluated the course, the professor, and the form. Non-self-affirmed participants showed a gender bias after a bad grade, disadvantaging the female professor. Self-affirmation eradicated the gender bias by lowering evaluations for the male professor, suggesting that the gender bias involves overvaluing male rather than derogating female professors. Without self-affirmation, the positivity of the SETs was correlated with participants’ evaluation of the SET form itself. Self-affirmation inflated the correlation for the male professor and eradicated it for the female professor. Having students self-affirm before SETs may be useful when SETs are obligatory only. An even better approach is asking SETs before students learn their grades or simply abolish SETs as a factor in hiring and promotion decisions.

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Acknowledgements

This work was supported by the Special Research Fund of KU Leuven [OT/12/38], awarded to the first author. The research has been presented at the 18th Annual Conference of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, San Antonio, Texas, 19-21 January 2017 as part of the Symposium The dark side of striving for and experiencing uniqueness, organized by the first author. The authors thank the following individuals for their help in different stages of the study: Maarten Borgers, Liedewij Borremans, Toon Bynens, Joke Claes, Quentin Clemens, Ruben Habex, Carolien Van Damme, and Nathalie Vissers.

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Hoorens, V., Dekkers, G. & Deschrijver, E. Gender Bias in Student Evaluations of Teaching: Students’ Self-Affirmation Reduces the Bias by Lowering Evaluations of Male Professors. Sex Roles 84, 34–48 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-020-01148-8

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Keywords

  • Sexism
  • Prejudice
  • Course evaluation
  • Teacher effectiveness evaluation
  • Students’ evaluation of teaching
  • Self-affirmation