Posted on 26-02-2010
Filed Under (How Professors Think) by Anita Kelly

This week I was reflecting on a wonderful student who happened to showed up super-late the very first day of class this semester. I asked myself, “How much good behavior from this student was needed to offset that one seemingly small mistake?”

The answer to this question isn’t really important. What is important is realizing that people — including your professors — put way too much weight on noteworthy events like showing up late the first day or surfing the Internet during class one time to decide what kind of student you are. A famous personality researcher named Walter Mischel discovered that indeed people weigh too heavily these “prototypical behaviors” that squarely represent the broader class of a given trait when judging others to have certain personality traits. This means that based on just one or two noteworthy events, the professor might label you to be an uncaring student.

But you can use this kind of information to help you make a great impression on your professor (or your friends for that matter). For example, you can be the one student who understands a particularly hard reading and offers an especially insightful comment about it.  Or you can be the one student who turns in her midterm paper early.

You knew all this already, didn’t you? After all, you go to the hospital for a sick friend or bring the chicken noodle soup to the sick friend in your dorm…you do these prototypical things, and your friend will never what a caring friend you are.

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