The phenomenon in which the style of a lecture masks its poor content is known as the “Dr. Fox Effect.”
In the 1970’s, three researchers hired an actor, Michael Fox, to “teach charistmatically and nonsubstantively on a topic about which he knew nothing.” The lecture, titled “Mathematical Game Theory as Applied to Physician Education,” was attended or rewatched via video by a total of 55 participants (physicians, educators, and administrators).
This is a video of the lecture:
This is a video of an edited version with clips added:
Table 1 from the paper shows the responses that the participants had to the survey.
- Group 1 – 11 psychiatrists, psychologists, and social-worker educators
- Group 2 – 11 psychiatrists, psychologists, and psychiatric social workers
- Group 3 – 33 educators and administrators with 21 of these holding master’s degrees, 8 with bachelor’s degrees, and 4 with other degrees not specified
The authors concluded that “style was more influential than content in providing learner satisfaction” for those participants in the study. They were specifically aiming to address the idea that student ratings of educators had more to do with personality than with educational content.
What implications does this have for us as medical educators? There are many different theories that can come from this study. The authors themselves write “there is much more to teaching than making students happy.” This is very true, but much like attention, there is an undeniable effect of “performance” on gaining interest and motivating learners. The authors note that “despite having been misinformed, the motivation of some respondents to learn more about the subject matter persisted.”
Although much more research has to be done in this area to answer the question effectively, my own answer is summarized in a quote I use frequently in my presentations:
“Successful teaching is a performance, and the sooner we make peace with that, the better.” – Tauber, et. al.
Naftulin D, Ware J, and Donnelly F. “The Doctor Fox Lecture: A Paradigm of Educational Seduction.” Journal of Medical Education. 1973;43:630-5
Tauber R, Mester C. Acting Lessons for Teachers: Using Performance Skills in the Classroom. Praeger, 2007. 2nd edition.