Hot For Teacher (or Boss)? Our Sex Drive May Make Us Work Harder

Veronica Vaugh, who had Billy Madison hot for teacher in 'Billy Madison, used the poor man's sex drive against him to help him achieve

Veronica Vaughn, who had Billy Madison hot for teacher in Billy Madison, used the poor man’s sex drive against him to help him achieve | Universal

Ever feel the need to blast through the last stretch of a project or task before lunch? You’re motivated by the thought of a sandwich or getting outside into the fresh air for the first time in hours. You’re incentivized to work faster and harder by some of your most basic human instincts — the desire to eat and get some sun. We’re all held captive by our primate, caveman DNA in some respects. Van Halen’s Hot For Teacher explored the concept decades ago, for example, by appealing to our sex drive.

Fast forward many years, and we have actual evidence that Hot For Teacher was touching at something few people probably gave much though to — and interestingly enough, it concerns productivity, your sex drive, and your caveman DNA.

Specifically, by using your sex drive against you, your teachers and bosses may have been able to make you work harder, faster, and more efficiently. Or at least pay more attention to what they’re saying.

That’s what a new paper published in The Journal of General Psychology claims. According to researcher Richard Westfall and his research team at the University of Nevada, studies with college students have shown that people pay more attention and learn better from more attractive teachers and lecturers. Essentially, if the person at the front of the room is hot, you’re going to stop looking at Snapchat and pay more attention.

Your sex drive finds a way to take the wheel, you might say.

Hot For Teacher: Ahead of its time?

Students listen to a lecture, one of the unsexiest activities imaginable

Students listen to a lecture, one of the unsexiest activities imaginable | Torsten Silz /AFP/Getty Images

Though Van Halen’s classic song explored the difficulties associated with having an attractive teacher (having trouble paying attention, for example) this new study shows the opposite actually happens. A hot teacher means you’re going to be locked in, and absorbing more than you would from someone who you would deem unattractive.

“This study tested the hypothesis that persons would perform significantly better on a learning task when they perceived their instructor to be high in physical attractiveness,” the study says. By having students listen to an audio lecture with an accompanying photograph of either an attractive or less attractive speaker, researchers had pupils take a test covering material from the lecture.

As suspected, the more attractive the lecturer, the better the students performed. “Participants in the high physically attractive conditions outperformed participants in the low physically attractive conditions on a forced-choice recognition task,” the study says.

But was this a result of our sex drives? It’s not clear from the study, and the research team says more work will be required in order to take more variables, like gender, into account. “We hypothesized that gender would not play a role in this relationship. Examination of gender could help to isolate whether this effect was driven by human sexual attraction or by other cognitive forces.”

It’s not too much of a stretch to think a person’s sex drive is playing a role, even at a subconscious level, however.

A handsome boss taking care of business

A handsome boss taking care of business | Douglas Miller/Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

What does it all mean, and why is this type of research important? If students are learning more efficiently from more attractive leaders, you can bet that the same effect is happening in workplaces across the country as well. This may not necessarily be a good thing, though, as employees may fall into the role of ‘yes men’ by trying to impress a manager they find attractive.

There is also research that shows an attractive boss can lead to lower productivity overall. That may lead to some questionable or difficult decisions for hiring managers and employers, who have been known to give preference to more attractive job applicants.

Of course, whether a teacher or manager is “hot” is completely subjective (the paper goes into its method for defining attractiveness for the purposes of the study). There’s no telling who anyone will find attractive. But typically, people can discern whether or not someone is good looking, even if they themselves aren’t particularly attracted to them.

The endgame? Be aware that teachers, bosses, or managers may be able to hack your basic instincts to alter your behavior with only their looks.

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