Teachers And The Pratfall Effect

Teachers need to make deliberate mistakes.

You will probably make enough naturally but it’s worth going out of your way to stage a couple of blunders in front of a class.


It will make you look good.

Students and staff will respect you more.

It will make you more socially attractive.

If a person is generally considered smart and capable, committing a small mistake will generally make them more socially attractive.

This is called the Pratfall Effect.

You don’t believe me?

Well, it’s true, especially if those around you see you as some sort of super-teacher who is smart and capable and highly competent at what you do.

You don’t have to drop academic or teaching clangers – it could just be tripping up and dropping a load of paperwork.

Your pratfalls can be small but they will work in your favour because they humanise you and for us mere mortals, that’s a great relief and a sign that you are really one of us. A failure experience is important if you are competent.

The Pratfall Effect explains that when we see somebody that we hold in high esteem (e.g. a celebrity, sports star, politician etc)  make a mistake or error, they appear even more likeable.

The Pratfall Effect was first studied by Elliot Aronson in 1966 and his original experiment is considered a classic.

An experiment was performed which demonstrated that the attractiveness of a superior person is enhanced if he commits a clumsy blunder; the same blunder tends to decrease the the attractiveness of a mediocre person. We predicted these results by conjecturing that a superior person may be viewed as superhuman and, therefore, distant; a blunder tends to. humanize him and, consequently, increases his attractiveness.

An occasional pratfall here and there could do your reputation the world of good if you are considered to be a top teacher ‘who never makes mistakes’. Make too many of them though and you are likely to come off worse and a bit of a laughing stock.

Remember, the Pratfall Effect only works if you are competent in the first place!

A lecture by Dr Peter Salovey explains what the Pratfall Effect is:


Aronson, E., Willerman, B. and Floyd, J. (1966) The effect of a pratfall on increasing interpersonal attractiveness, Psychonomic Science, 4, 227-8

Helmreich, R., Aronson, E., & LeFan, J. (1970). To err is humanizing sometimes: Effects of self-esteem, competence, and a pratfall on interpersonal attraction. Journal of personality and social psychology16(2), 259.

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