Professor-Student Interactions and Student Participation:
Comparing the Effects of Body Language and Sex on Classroom Participation

Luke Brenneman
Wes Bass
Jordan Peterson
Huntington University

Keywords: body language, education, classroom interaction, posture, professor, student, classroom participation


Despite extensive research and widely-held belief supporting the fact that educators call on males more than females in the classroom, the sex of students may overshadow the importance of the body language typical of each sex in classroom interactions between educators and students. This study sought to explore how significantly body language influences professor-student interactions through the use of classroom observation and self-reported surveys at a small Midwestern university. Results of both observation and surveys were analyzed primarily by using frequencies and percentages in order to measure the extent to which the independent variable, body language and sex of students, is correlated to the dependent variable, student participation and professors’ interactions with students based on sex. Results indicated that a combination of a student being a male and exhibiting several specific positions of male-associated body language is correlated with more professor-student interactions than any other variable combination. When combined with data about females displaying certain elements of each sex’s body language, results strongly suggested that a combination of sex and sex-associated body language determine frequency and quality of educator-student interactions.


The following statement has been supported through the work of many researchers and hours of study and observation: Teachers call on boys more than girls (Altermatt, Jovanovic, & Perry, 1998). Although some work refutes the idea, most who study classroom dynamics in association with sex agree that educators have most of their positive interactions with male students through giving them more question-answering opportunities, feedback, encouragement, and individual attention and instruction than females (Altermatt, Jovanovic, & Perry, 1998). A potential cause for this phenomenon is the difference between how males and females use body language and how educators interpret the body language typical of each sex. Elements of body language associated with males tend to communicate more engagement, responsiveness, confidence, eagerness, and intelligence (McGinley, LeFevre, & McGinley, 1975), which presents the possibility that educators’ apparent biases toward males in classroom interactions may actually be natural proclivities to select the students whose body language makes them seem most eager, capable, and ready (Altermatt, Jovanovic, & Perry, 1998).

Body language is an intricate, complex, and influential part of communication and daily life that constitutes upwards of 80 percent of what people communicate about their presence and ideas. Its extensive list of possible gestures includes nodding, winking, seated posture, finger tapping, neck relaxation, leaning on objects, eye contact, and thumb twiddling (McGinley, LeFevre, & McGinley, 1975). Key principles of body language include that it is used in every interaction, whether the person using it is conscious of it or not. Also, men and women are usually unaware that they often tend to perform or assume body language typical of their respective sex, which communicates stereotypical messages about them due to their sex and corresponding body language.
Posture also tends to differ between the sexes, and it carries implications about each sex as a whole. When confronted with people whom they dislike, men are less relaxed in their postures than women, evidenced by their tendency to sit upright instead of leaning to a side. Men also display more alertness and concern than their female counterparts, which is indicated through directness of shoulder orientation to the other (Mehrabian, 1968). These actions correspond to Luxen’s idea that women display behavioral affiliation and men exhibit behavioral dominance in social situations (Luxen, 2005).

Posture also exemplifies how women and men differ in body language and implications about each sex in everyday, non-confrontational situations. Men typically sit in wide positions, meaning that their legs are spread apart and their arms are positioned away from the torso. Contrarily, women primarily sit in closed positions with their upper legs together and their arms close to their bodies (Vrugt & Luyerink, 2000; Cashdan, 1998). As a consequence, wide sitting positions are viewed as masculine and closed positions as feminine (Vrugt & Luyerrink, 2000). Research has also shown that women tend to hunch and stoop their bodies and avert their eyes for the purpose of appearing small compared to men. In turn, men tend to assume proud, upright postures and to feel comfortable doing so (Roberts & Arefi-Afshar, 2007). One male author wrote about his habit of leaning back in his chair, presumably in an open-legged, upright posture, and how others found this condescending, as if he was taking the form of someone with a higher social status than them (Gentry, 2010).

As previously mentioned, teachers and professors are known to call on and interact with male students more than female students in their classes. Much research from the present and past suggests that males receive the majority of attention from their educators (Dickman, n.d.; Keen, n.d.; Menard-Warwick, 2007). Crawford & MacLeod noted that the same trend holds true even through college (Crawford & MacLeod, 1990), and another study offers that the occurrence can be found in every level of education from kindergarten to graduate school (University of Virginia Teaching Resource Center, n.d.). Several specific educator behaviors and educator-student interactions have been analyzed in research. For instance, studies have found that after professors ask questions they tend to make eye contact solely with male students to prompt them to give answers. Some also seem to reserve higher-order questions necessitating critical thinking for men, leaving factual, lower-order questions for women (Dickman, n.d.; University of Virginia Teaching Resource Center, n.d.). Educators have also been discovered to recall and use male students’ names more than those of females and develop males’ thoughts more through specific and extensive feedback (University of Virginia Teaching Resource Center, n.d.).

One study found that teachers are usually not conscious that they give more attention to male students. Teachers who have said that girls speak more in their classes than boys actually managed classrooms in which girls only spoke about one-third as much as boys (University of Virginia Teaching Resource Center, n.d.). In other research, teachers asked boys 61 percent of the class’s direct questions, 54 percent of all call-out questions, and 62 percent of all open questions (Altermatt, Jovanovic, & Perry, 1998).

Combining classroom settings and some education-related social settings with body language, some researchers have compiled information about how instructors interact with their male and female students in class. The study from the University of Virginia found that women tend to be less likely than men to raise their hands quickly to answer professors’ questions. The same study recorded that female students frequently smile and look away from their target audiences when speaking in class, whereas males tend to use direct body language, like pointing (University of Virginia Teaching Resource Center, n.d.).

In a setting applicable to that of a classroom, people viewed others who sat with open postures more positively than those sitting with closed postures (McGinley, LeFevre, & McGinley, 1975). Another study focused on giving people positive feedback while they were sitting, which frequently occurs in education. The research suggested that men respond to compliments with advanced performance while sitting in upright posture, which is stereotypical of men. Women, however, tend to move to a slouched position after receiving positive feedback while sitting upright. The study also explained that individuals have more feelings of pride and advanced performance in the future when complimented while sitting in an upright posture, which is stereotypical of men, as opposed to a slouched posture, which is stereotypical of women (Roberts & Arefi-Afshar, 2007). This research indicated an upward spiral in which posture leads to teacher attention, which leads to confidence, which increases the likelihood of upright posture.

Research conducted to represent body language in society as a whole was performed regarding eye contact and its effects on peoples’ perceptions of others. The researchers concluded that people are judged with increasing positiveness as their eye contact with others increases. People seem to view individuals who maintain high levels of eye contact as having confidence, assertiveness, high self-esteem, intelligence, competence, and good protection against anxiety (Napieralski, Brooks, & Droney, 1995).

Several studies supported the idea that male students initiate participation in the classroom more than female students, suggesting that bias toward males in educators may not be the cause of disproportionate teacher-student interaction (Caspi, Chajut, & Saporta, 2008; Housely Gaffney, 2008). One body of research found that 58.1 percent of male college students self-reported participation in class, compared to just 36.3 percent of females. Men also reported a rate higher than that of women for feeling comfortable in class at a comparison of 46.8 percent to 21.7 percent (Auster & MacRone, 1994). Other sources, like Altermatt, Jovanovic, & Perry (1998), explored the meaning of this information. They noted that students play a large part in shaping their classroom experiences and number and quality of interactions with instructors. Their behaviors determined much of what the extent of their participation was in classes. As a specific example of student classroom behavior differences, the researchers discovered that males constituted 63 percent of all volunteering among students. Per question, 1.59 males volunteered, as opposed to 1.01 females, and 14 of the 17 top-responding students were males. This information is validated in that girls and boys were found to have equal chances of being called on upon volunteering (Altermatt, Jovanovic, & Perry, 1998). Additional research agreed, asserting that characteristics of college students more accurately predict the level of involvement or silence of those students than the interpersonal communication style of professors (Fassinger, 1995).

This study will report the role that body language of male and female college students plays in their participation in classes and the quantity and quality of interactions they have with the professors in those classes. It is commonly held that educators have biases that lead them to call on and favor males over females in the classroom, but the body language typical of each sex and what is communicated through it are key and, perhaps more important, in determining why differences exist between the sexes in that setting. Interactions with professors and class participation were recorded and understood through surveys and observations of classes in their natural settings.

It was therefore hypothesized that professors at a Midwestern university call on and interact with male students more than female students in correlation with body language differences that convey males as the more appropriate and available option for classroom participation.



The participants for the study were selected from two separate populations in a small liberal arts university in the Midwest. One category of participants was students, and the other was professors. The majority of student participants were white and between 18 and 24 years old. All professor participants were white. Students and professors completed surveys in their classes, so a 100 percent response rate was achieved, even though they were able to opt out of taking the survey. Five class sessions of different courses were observed, and surveys were administered to all students and professors at the end of each session. The classes were chosen from a list of classes from the registrar with at least twenty students representing at least 40 percent of each sex. A sample size of approximately 173 students and 5 professors was analyzed. Due to the use of human subjects, the study was cleared prior to its start by the university’s Institutional Review Board.

Classes were selected based on meeting times, and no class was observed more than once. Because an insufficient number of classes met during a single time slot, researchers observed classes that met at different times. This resulted in a few individual students being observed multiple times, but they only completed one survey each. This small overlap was not seen as problematic because these few students did not affect the overall functioning of their classes, especially in the realm of body language. Self reports in the survey and classroom observation were used to attain information on the dependent variable, classroom participation and professors’ interactions with students based on students’ sex and body language, and the independent variable, body language in class according to students’ sex.


After class sessions were selected based on meeting time, the researchers observed each session in its entirety. The researchers actively observed several elements of body language and classroom participation, including, but not limited to (a) male and female volunteering rates, (b) whom professors called on according to sex, (c) whom professors called on according to body language, students’ body language according to sex, head nodding, eye contact, upright versus slouched posture, leg and arm position, (d) with whom professors made eye contact after asking questions to their classes based on students’ sex, (e) whom professors asked to answer high and low-order questions based on students’ sex, quantity and quality of feedback from professors to students based on sex, and (f) hand-raising frequency and quickness based on sex. The only demographic information recorded about students from observation was sex. No demographic information was recorded about professors.

Although completion and submission of the survey was optional, it was expected that 100 percent of students and professors in the observed classes would participate. Students received the Body Language and Student-Professor Interaction Survey: Student Version (BLSPIS: Student Version), and professors received the BLSPIS: Professor Version. Student sex and classification (e.g., sophomore) were the only two demographic questions in the student version, and classification was only included to draw suspicion away from sex being so key to the study. Other questions asked about body language in class, including posture, leg position, and arm position. Several common positions were offered in addition to an “Other” option with space for a description. Questions about frequency and quality of interaction with professors and level of comfort in class were also included. The professor version had no demographic questions, and its primary focus was on the specific body language of students that the professors found to draw the most student-professor interactions and the most open-ended, critical thinking questions. Other questions asked about the ratio of male versus female interactions in class on the day of observation and throughout the semester as a whole. Student participants were assured that anonymity would be kept in the study. The researcher at no time was able to pair any student survey information with any specific individual. Professor participants were assured that confidentiality would be kept in the study. Only the researchers were able to pair professors’ survey responses to each professor. This was necessary because the researchers needed to be able to compare professors’ perceptions of their interactions and tendencies with student data collected through observation.


At the beginning of each class session, professors introduced observing researchers by name and academic department. The primary researcher, who was consistent through all observations, always sat in a front corner of the room, and the secondary researcher always sat in the back row of seats in the classroom. The primary researcher kept detailed notes of every interaction between students and professors according to the observable variables previously listed. The secondary researcher recorded hand-raising frequency and volunteering rates according to sex and whom professors called on according to sex. In the last few minutes of each class session, students and professors each received their respective BLSPIS. Surveys were administered at the end of the sessions, because certain questions could have given participants information about the purpose and specific goals of the researchers’ observation, which could have caused the participants to act differently than they normally would in class. Upon completion of the surveys, students placed them in a stack on their way out of the classroom. Professors’ surveys were collected and coded so that only the researchers had knowledge of each professor’s identity.


Observation: Type of Prompt

In the five classes we observed, there were 27 shout-out answers (unprompted by the professor) from male students, compared to 31 shout-outs from female students. Call-outs, or questions asked from the professor to specific students by saying their names, pointing at them, or nodding to them, were not very similar in frequency between sexes. Males answered 36 call-outs, and females answered 20. Therefore, males had a total of 63 interactions with professors, and females had 51.

Observation: Body Language

Combining data from all classes, upon initiation of interactions with professors, male students were sitting with male-associated posture 29 times and female-associated posture 23 times. Females displayed typical male posture 12 times and typical female posture 23 times. Males’ arms matched their stereotyped open position 46 times and that of females seven times, and we observed females with male-associated arm position 30 times and female-associated arm position on nine occasions. Males exhibited male-associated leg position 46 times and female-associated leg position only twice. Females sat with male-associated leg position 11 times and that of females 23 times. The total numbers for leg position are lower than the other two body language categories because legs were more difficult to observe than posture and arms. Lastly, 16 males raised their hands in response to professors’ questions with the result of professors calling upon them to answer. Three males raised their hands and were not called upon by their professors. Nine total females raised their hands to answer, and all 9 were called upon by their professors.

Class #1, a mid-level history class, was at 8:00 a.m., and there were 28 to 30 students sitting at tables that were placed against each other to create columns. Two students sat at each table. The professor lectured in front of the students using PowerPoint most of the time, and he had the lights off for the entire class to make the screen more visible. There were 6 shout-outs and 0 call-outs during the class session. Females answered 5 of the 6 questions, only 1 of which was an open-ended question. The only male question was also open-ended and higher-order thinking. This class had about one-fourth of the student-professor interactions we observed in any other classes.

Of the 5 instances of female interaction, 4 could be observed. In each of the 4 cases, the female exhibited slouched posture, which is associated with females, and open leg and arm positions, which are associated with males. The 1 male interaction could not be observed. There was one instance of a male raising his hand to answer a question, but the professor did not call on him.
Class #2, a Senior Seminar in Business, was held at 9:00 a.m. and had 25 to 28 students who sat at individual desks. The professor always called students by their names, sometimes without looking at them. The professor also gave extensive feedback to almost every answer from students. Because the professor always called upon students, all 27 student answers were from call-outs. Males were called-out 19 times, and females were called-out 8 times. Thirteen questions asked to males were open-ended and higher-order thinking, meaning the remaining 6 were closed-ended and lower-order thinking. Seven of the 8 questions to females were open ended and higher-order thinking, leaving 1 closed-ended and lower-order thinking.

In the class overall, males and females tended to closely exhibit posture and leg and arm positions associated with their sexes, regardless of whether there was initiation of interaction with the professor or not. Posture among those with whom the professor initiated interaction closely followed this observation. Thirteen males sat with upright, or male-associated posture, and only 4 were slouching. Five females also slouched, the posture associated with females, and 2 sat upright. All 17 males whose legs were observable were sitting with their legs in an open position, whereas 6 females sat with closed legs and 1 sat with open legs. Sixteen males had open, male-associated arm positioning, and only 1 had closed arms. Five females had open arms, and 2 had their arms closed. Students raised their hands 6 times in the class, and all 6 instances were from males. Five were called upon by the professor, who chose a female who was not volunteering to answer instead of the remaining male with his hand raised. 

Class #3, an introductory philosophy class, was at 1:00 p.m. and had 72 to 76 students. It filled the capacity of its lecture hall, which had 4 students sitting at tables that came together to form columns with a large aisle down the middle of the room. The professor lectured from the front of the room and occasionally wrote class notes on the blackboard. There were 16 shout-out answers from students during the session, 9 of which were from males and 7 of which were from females. Of the 9 male shout-outs, 2 were open-ended and higher-order thinking, and 7 were closed-ended and lower-order thinking. Six of the 7 female shout-outs were closed-ended and lower-order thinking. There were also 5 male responses to call-outs from the professor, 2 of which were open-ended and higher-order thinking and 3 of which were closed-ended and lower-order thinking. In comparison, females were called upon twice with 1 of each type of question.

Posture of males upon interaction with the professor was evenly divided between upright and slouched, and 2 females sat upright compared to 3 who slouched. Six males with legs we could observe sat with open, male-associated leg positions, and 0 males sat with closed legs. Three females sat with open legs and 1 with closed, and all 4 females whose arms we could observe were open. Eight males had open arms, and 1 had closed arms. Five males raised their hands, and the professor called upon 4. When the other male raised his hand, a female also raised hers, and the professor called on her. She was 1 of 2 females to raise her hand in class, and the other was called upon as well.

Class #4, an introductory literature class, was at 8:00 a.m. and had 24 to 26 students. Students sat at individual desks, and the professor lectured, asked questions to students, wrote notes on the blackboard, and briefly searched images of authors on the Internet using the room’s projector screen. The professor also often carried on question-and-answer conversations with individual students about class topics. These conversations were categorized by researchers as single student-professor interactions, because they were exclusively between singular students and the professor. No other students were offered the chance to give input without a sufficient pause or prompt from the professor. There were 20 shout-out answers during the session, 11 of which were from males. Four of these were open-ended and higher-order thinking, and 7 were closed-ended and lower-order thinking. Of the 9 female shout-outs, 4 were closed-ended and lower order thinking, and the other 5 were open-ended and higher-order thinking. There were 8 professor call-outs. Of the 5 to males, 3 were open-ended and higher-order thinking as were 2 of the 3 female call-out questions.

Two males in this class sat in an upright posture upon the initiation of interaction with the professor, whereas 12 slouched. Females were split evenly with 6 of each posture. All 12 males whose legs we could see were in an open position, as were 2 females versus 6 who sat with their legs closed. Ten males had open arms as opposed to 4 with closed arms, and 10 females also had open arms compared to 2 with closed. No students raised their hands during the class.

Class #5, an introductory sociology class, had 42-47 students sitting at individual desks. The professor lectured from behind a lectern in front of the class and often wrote notes on the blackboard. Out of 16 shout-outs, 10 came from female students, 7 of which were closed-ended and in response to lower-order thinking questions. The remaining 6 shout-outs were from males, and they were split evenly between the two different levels of questions and thinking. The professor called-out students 14 times, and 7 call-outs were directed at each sex. Also, of these 7 questions for males and females, 6 were closed-ended and lower-order thinking.

When interaction was initiated with the professor, 10 males had upright posture and 3 were slouching. Two females were sitting upright, and 12 were slouched. Eleven males had open legs and 2 had closed legs, and 2 females had open legs and 10 had closed legs. Twelve males had male-associated arm positions, and only 1 had that of females. Eight females also had open arms and 5 had closed arms. The professor called upon all students who raised their hands, and 4 of them were males and 6 were females.

Professor Surveys

Three professors surveyed indicated that either males or females spoke more often in their classes on the day of the observation. The observations supported the professors’ survey answers. One professor indicated that each sex spoke an equal amount, but observations revealed that males actually spoke more. The remaining professor indicated that females spoke more often than males, but observations showed the opposite was true.

Student Surveys

When comparing male and female responses to the question, “How often do you volunteer to participate in class compared to other students?” it was indicated that women are less likely to volunteer to participate than men (r=.195, P<.05) (see Table 1). When asked, “While sitting in class, how do you usually position your legs?” 81.9 percent of male students offered responses of open body language. The remaining 18.1 percent reported that they exhibited closed body language. The female students’ surveys indicated that 80.9 percent of women position their legs according to closed body language. That leaves 19.1 percent who self-reported open body language (see Chart A). When asked, “How do you normally position your arms while sitting in class?” 52.1 percent of males replied that they exhibit an open, male-associated body language with their arm position, which left 47.9 percent indicating that they have closed arm position. Among females, 77.2 percent reported displaying an open body language in how they position their arms, and 22.8 percent responded that they exhibit a closed body language in how they position their arms (see Chart B). When students were asked, “What kind of posture do you have when sitting in class?” 36 percent of male students reported that they exhibited an upright posture. The remaining 64 percent responded that they sat with a slouched posture. In females, 45.4 percent reported sitting with upright posture, meaning the remaining 54.5 percent exhibited slouched posture (see Chart C).

Table 1





Pearson Correlation
Sig. (2-tailed)





*. Correlation is significant at the 0.05 level (2-tailed).

Chart A

Chart B

Chart C

The participants were asked to rate how comfortable they were in the class in which researchers were observing. It was found that 50 students (29 males and 18 females) answered with a rating of “very comfortable.” Sixty-nine students (33 males and 35 females) rated their comfort levels at “comfortable.” Thirty-seven students (12 males and 25 females) replied with “neutral.” Only 8 students (3 males and 5 females) responded with “uncomfortable,” and 8 more (3 males and 5 females) selected “very uncomfortable.”

The participants of the study for males included 21 freshmen, 23 sophomores, 14 juniors, and 23 seniors. The female population had 36 freshmen, 24 sophomores, 12 juniors, and 16 seniors (see Chart D).

Chart D


It is interesting to note that females slightly outnumbered males in student-professor interaction in shout-out answers at 31-27. There is no professor instigation of shout-out answers—students just say an answer to a professor’s question without any prompt. This is intriguing, because males outnumbered females 36-20 in call-out responses. These are initiated by the professor through calling students’ names or asking students with raised hands to speak. This contrast suggests that when professor initiation of interactions is removed, student participation by sex is slightly more frequent in females. However, when professors do initiate interactions, they select males much more than females. We also found that most shout-out answers, in which females had a slight advantage, were responses to closed-ended, lower-order thinking questions. Call-outs, however, in which males had a large advantage, were usually open-ended and higher-order thinking questions. Our findings suggest that the significant advantage of males in call-out responses is at least in part due to males raising their hands much more often than females. It could also be due to other, subtler, body language like posture and leg and arm position, but this is difficult to determine based only on observations. This finding is because our overall observations were of males with professor interaction having male-associated body language and females having female-associated body language with the exception of arm position. However, when observations are combined with student survey data, comparisons can be made that yield valuable and insightful results.

The body language assumed by each sex at the initiation of interaction with the professor is also noteworthy. Observations suggest that the least disparity in male body language is posture, which was only 55.8 percent upright in males interacting with professors. On the student survey, however, only 36 percent of males responded that they sit with upright posture in class. This suggests that the 36 percent of males sitting upright account for 55.8 percent of all interactions with professors, meaning that upright posture in males is correlated with more interactions. Observations on arm position of males who interacted in class showed that 86.8 percent had open arms upon interaction. On the student survey, however, only 52.1 percent of males replied that they have open arms in class. This, like posture, suggests that the 52.1 percent of males with open arms are responsible for 86.8 percent of male interactions with professors. This means that open arm position in males is correlated with more interactions with professors. Leg position, which was 95.8 percent open among males with whom professors interacted, shows the same trend. A high percentage, 81.9 percent of males responded on the student survey that they sit with open leg position.  This 81.9 percent constitutes 95.8 percent of all interactions, suggesting, again, that the male-associated open leg position has a correlation with more interactions with professors among males.

Comparisons between observations and student survey results in females suggest that both female and male-associated body language are correlated with more professor interaction depending on the type of body language. Observations showed that upon interaction with professors, females exhibited female-associated, or slouched posture 65.7 percent of the time. In the survey, only 54.6 percent of females actually responded that they sit with female-associated posture. The data suggest that the 54.6 percent of females who slouch in class make up 65.7 percent of all female interactions, meaning that female-associated, not male-associated, posture in females has a correlation with more professor interaction. Leg position, however, shows indications of directly opposite results. Observations showed that interacting females had closed legs 67.6 percent of the time and open legs 32.4 percent of the time. In their survey responses, just 19.1 percent of females said they sit with open legs. This comparison shows that females sitting with male-associated open leg position have more interactions with professors because the 19.1 percent with open leg position account for 32.4 percent of all interactions with professors among females. Females actually displayed male arm position 76.9 percent of all observed instances. Female survey responses are very similar, indicating that 77.2 percent of females have open arms in class. This comparison suggests that arm position of females in class does not influence professor interaction with females.

Because female display of male-associated body language does not result in more interactions with professors in each of the three body language categories, these comparisons suggest that male-associated body language in males is correlated with the most interactions with professors in the categories of posture, arm position, and leg position. Therefore, a combination of a student being a male and exhibiting male body language will be correlated with more interactions than any other variable combination. Females, however, require a more complicated breakdown. Females are more likely to interact with professors when they sit with the slouched posture associated with their sex. However, females are also more likely to have professor interactions when they sit with male-associated open legs. In contrast yet again, while females with open arms have more interactions than those with closed arms, this is due to more females exhibiting open arms. Females do not have more interactions because their arms are open, meaning that arm position has no impact. Therefore, a combination of a student being a female with female-associated posture, male associated leg position, and any arm position is correlated with the most interactions among females in class. However, even this combination is not correlated with as many interactions as males who exhibit all male body language.

An example of these implications was evident in the business class, in which students were sitting in sex-associated body language, whether the professor interacted with them or not. Observation results show this is the case for those who interacted, but it was clear through general observation that the class as a whole followed stereotypical body language according to sex. This becomes more interesting when data about the sex of the students with whom the professor interacted are discussed. One hundred percent of the professor’s questions to students were call-outs, and the professor called on males 19 times and females only 8 times. The body language associated with each sex in the classroom combined with whom the professor selected in class suggests that body language is a key determinant to this professor. It does not rule out the possibility of the disparity being due only to sex, but it certainly implies the involvement of body language.            

Hand raising was very different between the sexes. Nineteen males raised their hands, and 9 females raised theirs. Of the nineteen males, 16 were called upon. Professors called upon all 9 females. These data support that of Altermatt, Jovanovic, and Perry (1998), who discovered that males and females have an equal chance of being called upon if they are volunteering at the same rates. However, since males volunteer more, they are called upon more. A small percentage of volunteering males were not called-upon, but 100 percent of volunteering females were asked to speak by professors. This suggests that professors do not have a preference based on sex. The higher frequency of male interaction with professors is due to the body language of males exhibiting what is perceived as eagerness, engagement, and availability.


Issues with the student surveys prevented the study from being able to incorporate all the answers provided by students. The primary issue was the “Other (Please specify)” answer option on several of the survey questions regarding body language and positions in class. In this space, we received answers that could not be categorized as either open or closed, and so the responses were not incorporated into the results. Also, a few respondents circled multiple answers, which compromised and resulted in dismissal of their responses.

We also encountered some limitations in observation. We entered classrooms hoping to analyze more than we were adequately able to observe. An example is eye contact, which was included in our surveys. We intended to observe it, but so many observations involving posture, leg position, arm position, question type, and more demanded our complete attention. Eye contact is very subtle, and we knew that if we focused on observing it, other observations would be compromised. Also, college classes, at least those we observed, do not have much hand raising. Although we were able to make insightful observations and analyses on hand-raising, findings are not as strong as they would have been with higher frequencies of this nonverbal form of volunteering.

Ideas for Continued Study

Considering the experiences involved with this study, its findings, implications, limitations, and applications, we suggest that any future studies on related topics film classroom observations or add another observer in order to successfully observe more subtle factors of body language’s impact on student-professor interactions. Also, similar studies conducted in education settings with younger students, like those in pre-school, elementary, middle, and high school, could yield very valuable results and applications different from those of this study. Classrooms with younger students tend to have more structure and hand raising; at the youngest stages, socialization of body language in association to sex may have little or no effect on students’ behavior. New dynamics and concepts would be at work. Lastly, because of our distinctive findings in the business class, we believe comparative studies on body language and classroom interactions in different academic fields could bring intriguing results and implications.


Educators can use results and ideas from this study to improve learning environments for their students in several ways. With the knowledge that they tend to select males for more call-out questions that are correlated to open-ended answers and higher-order thinking, they can intentionally call upon females for these more often. This will result in more overall female participation and increased higher-order thinking in females. Also, educators can simply have an awareness of which body language factors they are likely to perceive as engaged, intelligent, available, and eager—those typically displayed by males—and those often perceived as disengaged, uninterested, and closed. Knowing these behaviors, the interpretations that typically accompany them, and the sexes that typically exhibit them should improve teachers’ selection of students for interactions. In addition, educators using this study will have the ability to identify variable combinations that result in the least student-educator interactions. Educators can target the students exhibiting these variables for interactions to get them more involved in the education setting and improve their educational and learning experiences.



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