McCroskey and Wheeless, the first to introduce the concept of “affinity” in the communication literature, defined it as “a positive attitude toward another person” (1976, 231). Bell and Daly expanded research in the area of affinity seeking in interpersonal communication. They defined “affinity seeking” as “the active social communicative process by which individuals attempt to get others to like and feel positive toward them” (1984, 91). These pioneers pursued this research stream as it gained momentum, clearing, defining, and redefining a swath so significant that not only did their efforts spawn decades of affinity research, but these early efforts appeared to support the idea that gaining “affinity” may be the single most important reason why we engage in interpersonal communication. That the fledgling discipline could assert a simple explanation for what motivates communication interaction is impressive. A more far-reaching impact was felt as interpersonal communication research shifted focus to specialized contexts such as the classroom or workplace. Because the seminal affinity research was conducted by scholars interested in communication education and instruction, affinity research in the instructional context set the agenda for its application to other interpersonal contexts.
Drawing from Bell and Daly, McCroskey and McCroskey (1986) expanded this research area specifically to classroom teachers. Their research indicated that teachers use 10 of the 25 interpersonal affinity-seeking techniques to obtain affinity with students. Frymier and Wanzer (2006) summarized the 10 strategies:
- Facilitate enjoyment. When teachers are able to make classroom activities enjoyable, students appreciate it and respond positively.
- Being optimistic and having a positive outlook has consistently been related to positive affect in the classroom.
- Assume equality. In effect, this is when a teacher de-emphasizes her or his higher status and treats students as equals.
- Conversational rule keeping. This strategy is consistent with assuming equality. When teachers use conversational rule keeping, they are being polite and treating students with respect.
- Comfortable self. A teacher using comfortable self appears relaxed and confident and may help students to also feel comfortable in the classroom.
- Teachers who are dynamic and enthusiastic consistently elicit greater liking from students.
- Elicit other’s disclosure. When teachers use this strategy they are paying individual attention to students and showing interest in them as individuals. Most people find it confirming and complimentary to have someone of higher status showing interest in them.
- When teachers attempt to be helpful, students like them better. Students may not expect teachers to go out of their way to be helpful, so when they do, it is particularly appreciated.
- Listening goes hand in hand with eliciting others’ disclosure in terms of communicating confirmation to the student.
- Sensitivity involves expressing empathy and caring toward the student. Like listening, this strategy involves focusing attention on the student.
Gorham et al. (1989) replicated the earlier research and confirmed that the most frequent affinity-seeking strategies teachers use are physical attractiveness, sensitivity, eliciting others’ disclosure, trustworthiness, nonverbal immediacy, conversational rule keeping, dynamism, and listening. Later research indicated that students perceived graduate teaching assistants as using somewhat different affinity-seeking strategies. They indicated that graduate teaching assistants assumed equality, conceded control, elicited others’ self-disclosure, and used self-inclusion more frequently than their professors. Based on this and subsequent research, it became clear that teachers regularly employ affinity-seeking strategies to establish good relationships with their students.
To date, subsequent studies in the educational context have investigated how affinityseeking behaviors influence, or are associated with, student affective and cognitive learning, student motivation, teacher credibility and competence, learning climate, and cross-cultural classroom distinctions. The seminal research results are summarized in the remaining paragraphs (for review, see Frymier & Wanzer 2006).
The first research applications examined the effectiveness of teacher affinity seeking in college classrooms. The results indicated that affinity seeking was significantly correlated with affective learning as well as cognitive learning and with student motivation. It was also found that using multiple strategies could enhance students’ motivation to study. There were substantial correlations between student motivation and facilitating enjoyment, assuming equality, optimism, self-concept confirmation, and nonverbal immediacy. These strategies as well as others were found to be positively associated with learning as well. Related research determined that teachers’ use of affinity seeking led to increased perceptions of teacher credibility. The relationships with teacher character and credibility were strong and moderate, respectively. This research also indicated substantial correlations between teachers’ use of affinity-seeking strategies and students’ substantially increased motivation to study.
In an effort to extend this research to examine the relationship between teacher affinityseeking strategies and student communication in the classroom, as well as students’ perceptions of teachers’ competence, research results indicated that both of these were very substantially increased by the affinity-seeking strategies. Similar results were obtained with teachers’ affinity seeking having a positive impact on their perception of the classroom climate. Nineteen affinity-seeking strategies impacted on perceptions of classroom climates. In 2001 Roach and Byrne extended the teacher affinity-seeking research to the German culture. They found that German instructors were perceived to use substantially fewer affinity-seeking strategies than had been observed in the earlier US research. They also found that the relationship between affinity seeking and student cognitive learning was substantially weaker for German students. However, German students’ affective learning was substantially benefited by teacher use of affinity seeking. It was virtually equal to the impact in the US research.
Conclusions which can be drawn from this body of research are as follows: (1) when teachers use affinity seeking with students, the classroom climate improves and students are more motivated to study and have higher affective learning; (2) students perceive instructors who use affinity seeking as more credible; (3) the 10 strategies were perceived as positive strategies in the research on teacher affinity seeking.
- Bell, R. A., & Daly, J. A. (1984). The affinity-seeking function of communication. Communication Monographs, 51, 91–115.
- Frymier, A. B., & Wanzer, M. B. (2006). Teacher and student affinity-seeking in the classroom. In T. P. Mottet, V. P. Richmond, & J. C. McCroskey (eds.), Handbook of instructional communication: Rhetorical and relational perspectives. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon, pp. 195–211.
- Gorham, J., Kelley, D. H., & McCroskey, J. C. (1989). The affinity-seeking of classroom teachers: A second perspective. Communication Quarterly, 37, 16–26.
- McCroskey, J. C., & McCroskey, L. L. (1986). The affinity-seeking of classroom teachers. Communication Research Reports, 3, 158–167.
- McCroskey, J. C., & Wheeless, L. R. (1976). An introduction to human communication. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
- Roach, K. D., & Byrne, P. R. (2001). A cross-cultural comparison of instructor communication in American and German classrooms. Communication Education, 50, 1–14.
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