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Professor, Graduates Study How Facebook Profiles Affect Student Perceptions of Faculty

Quick Facts

 The project began several years ago with Merry Sleigh and two former undergraduates, Jason Laboe and Aimee Smith.
 The article, “Professors’ Facebook Content Affects Students’ Perceptions and Expectations,” was published a peer-reviewed journal from Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.

Merry Sleigh

ROCK HILL, S.C. — A professor’s Facebook profile can affect students’ perceptions and expectations, but perhaps not their decisions on taking a course, according to a new study by Winthrop University Associate Professor of Psychology Merry Sleigh and former undergraduates Aimee Smith and Jason Laboe.

The resulting study, “Professors’ Facebook Content Affects Students’ Perceptions and Expectations,” was recently published in “Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking,” a peer-reviewed journal from Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. publishers.

But the research process began about four years ago, when Laboe and Smith were undergraduates at Winthrop. They talked with Sleigh about social media and the increasing popularity of Facebook.

“Some of my colleagues openly welcome any student to be a Facebook friend, while others are more selective,” Sleigh said. “The decisions that Facebook users have to make in terms of privacy interested all three of us.”

That conversation was a turning point for the research study. While previous researchers had investigated the level of disclosure by a professor on a personal profile, Sleigh’s team went further, investigating the different types of disclosure, including political beliefs.

They studied the reactions of undergraduates who viewed six fake profiles created for a male professor. Each profile contained a different aspect related to politics, religion, family and social and professional behavior. The team discovered that students’ perceptions changed based on whether the fictitious professor appeared to be liberal or conservative, family or socially-oriented, although it did not affect their course decisions.

Overall, students in general don’t use the social media site as a way to connect with their professors, Sleigh said, although that may change in the future.

“The results of the study might encourage faculty members to be mindful of the type of information they are posting on Facebook,” she said. “The data also provides some evidence that students develop expectations about teachers and classes based on a wide variety of factors, some of which professors can control and some they cannot.”

To read the article for free online, visit the website. For more information contact Merry Sleigh at or 803/323-2633.

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