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Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Communication and Information



First Advisor

Dr. Brandi Frisby


There is a need to explore ways to better motivate students in instruction, as student motivation is an issue confronting teachers at all levels of education. Instructor-student rapport (ISR), a multidimensional concept comprised of students’ enjoyable interaction and personal connection with instructors, has potential to offer educators a tool for increasing these important student outcomes. Further, self-determination theory (SDT) may have utility for illustrating the psychological mechanisms through which instructors influence students by building rapport.

First, this study explored what behaviors instructors should employ to build ISR with students. Specifically, prosocial humor (related and unrelated) and confirmation (responding to questions, demonstrating interest, ad teaching style) were investigated as instructor rapport-building behaviors. Results showed that instructors’ use of related humor, demonstration of interest, and teaching style were significant predictors of both dimensions of ISR; mixed results were found for both responding to questions and unrelated humor.

Second, this study considered whether ISR was a significant predictor of student outcomes: intrinsic motivation, perceived cognitive learning, and academic performance. While enjoyable interaction was a significant, positive predictor of all three outcomes, personal connection was not a significant, positive predictor of any student outcomes. In fact, personal connection was a significant, negative predictor of perceived cognitive learning.

Third, this study explored whether ISR served as a mediator between these rapport-building behaviors and student outcomes as posited by SDT. Enjoyable interaction was a significant mediator in a majority of the models. However, personal connection was not a positive mediator in any models and served as a negative mediator when predicting perceived cognitive learning. Theoretical implications for this study’s findings, along with practical tips for instructors hoping to build ISR with students, are forwarded. In addition, future directions and limitations are discussed.

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Communication Commons