The Relationship between Perceived Instructor Immediacy and Student Challenge Behavior

By Goodboy, Alan K.; Myers, Scott A. | Journal of Instructional Psychology, June 2009 | Go to article overview

The Relationship between Perceived Instructor Immediacy and Student Challenge Behavior


Goodboy, Alan K., Myers, Scott A., Journal of Instructional Psychology


The purpose of this study was to examine the relationships between perceived instructor immediacy and student challenge behavior (i.e., procedural, evaluation, power play, practicality) in the college classroom. Participants were 403 students who listened to and reported on a 15 minute guest lecturer in an introductory communication class. Results indicated negative relationships between perceived instructor immediacy and all four types of challenge behavior. Future instructional research should examine instructor behaviors that deter objectionable student behavior.

Keywords: Immediacy, Challenge Behavior, Instructional Communication

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Effective teaching is largely a function of communication behaviors that instructors employ in their classrooms. Instructional communication scholars overwhelmingly agree that immediacy is an effective behavior that instructors must consider and utilize (Richmond, Lane, & McCroskey, 2006). Although the effect of instructor immediacy on student attitudes is well-documented, less attention has been given to student behavior. As Simonds (1997, p. 482) explained, "little research has been done that deals directly with inappropriate behavior in the college classroom ." Furthermore, Simonds (1997, p. 490) proposed that "teacher immediacy may influence the frequency of challenge behavior in the classroom." Therefore, the purpose of this study is to examine this possibility; that instructor immediacy is related to student challenge behavior in the college classroom.

Immediacy in the Classroom

According to Mehrabian (1971, p.1), immediacy is when people are drawn toward persons and things they like, evaluate highly, and prefer; and they avoid or move away from things they dislike, evaluate negatively, or do not prefer. Immediacy behaviors have been referred to as behaviors that reduce distance between people (Andersen, 1979).

Most of the research concerning immediacy in the instructional context has focused on teacher behaviors such as appropriate touch, eye contact, vocal expressiveness, forward leaning, and straight posture (Nussbaum, 1992; Richmond, Gorham, & McCroskey, 1987).

The bulk of research on instructor immediacy has investigated perceived immediacy with learning outcomes (i.e., affective learning and cognitive learning). Researchers have consistently reported positive linear relationships between teacher immediacy and affect toward the teacher and/or course (Andersen, 1979; Christophel, 1990; Comstock, Rowell, & Bowers, 1996; Gorham, 1988; Plax, Kearney, McCroskey, & Richmond, 1986; Richmond et al., 1987; Rodriguez, Plax, & Kearney; 1996; Witt & Wheeless, 2001). However, research on immediacy and cognitive learning has produced questionable findings. Student self-reports of learning and short-term recall have been linked to instructor immediacy (Kelly & Gorham, 1998; Rodriguez et al., 1996), but other studies have suggested there may be no causal link between immediacy and learning (Hess, Smythe, & Communication 451,2001; Titsworth, 2001; Witt & Wheeless, 2001).

Although student learning has been examined, student communication behavior associated with instructor immediacy has received scant attention. Considering that immediate instructors are well-liked (Hackman & Walker, 1990; Moore, Masterson, Christophel, & Shea, 1996), immediacy behaviors may suppress undesired student communication in the classroom (Kearney, Plax, Sorensen, & Smith, 1988). One undesired student communication behavior is challenge behavior.

Student Challenge Behavior

Challenge behaviors are mediational strategies students use to seek clarification about classroom processes and to co-construct the culture of the classroom (Simonds, 1997). Simonds (1997) explained that these behaviors are frequently undesired by teachers and can be destructive. Simonds, Jones, and Bedore (1994) identified four types of challenge behavior. …

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