Immediacy in the Classroom: Research and Practical Implications

This material is derived from a presentation given by Kelly Rocca of St. John's University at the 2007 workshop Student Motivations and Attitudes: The Role of the Affective Domain in Geoscience Learning held at Carleton College.

Immediacy Defined

Instructional immediacy is behavior that brings the instructor and the students closer together in terms of perceived distance. Non-verbal immediacy includes behaviors such as smiling, gesturing, eye contact and having relaxed body language. Verbal immediacy refers to calling the students by name, using humor and encouraging student input and discussion.

Title slide from Kelly Rocca's presentation, Immediacy in the Classroom: Research and Practical Implications
To get an idea of what is meant by immediacy, view the presentation Immediacy in the Classroom: Research and Practical Implications (PowerPoint 148kB Feb20 07). This presentation was part of the 2007 workshop Student Motivations and Attitudes: The Role of the Affective Domain in Geoscience Learning held at Carleton College.


Immediacy is the perception of physical and psychological closeness between communicators.

  • Social psychologist Albert Mehrabian has been credited with defining the concept of immediacy in terms of his "principle of immediacy," which states "people are drawn toward persons and things they like, evaluate highly, and prefer; and they avoid or move away from things they dislike, evaluate negatively, or do not prefer" (Mehrabian, 1971).
  • Immediacy relates to approach and avoidance behaviors and can be thought of as the perceived distance between people (Andersen, 1979; Mehrabian, 1971).

Professor Cam Davidson and a few of his students at Carleton College discussing a map

Immediacy Behaviors

Nonverbal Behaviors

  • Gestures while talking to the class
  • Uses vocal variety (non-monotone) when talking to the class
  • Looks at the class while talking
  • Smiles at the class while talking
  • Has a relaxed body posture while talking to the class
  • Moves around the classroom while teaching
  • Looks very little at board or notes while talking to the class
  • Removes barriers between self and students
  • Uses appropriate touch when dealing with students
  • Professional but more casual dress, appropriate to the context (or more professional dress initially to increase credibility, then more casual dress throughout the semester)

Verbal Behaviors

  • Calling on students by name
  • Uses terms like "we" and "us" to refer to the class
  • Allows for small talk and out of class conversations
  • Gives feedback to students
  • Asks students how they feel about things
  • Allows students to call him/her by first name

Relationships Between Immediacy and Other Classroom Variables

Most immediacy research is in the classroom, though some has been conducted in other interpersonal situations such as roommates, colleagues or spouses.

Immediacy is Positively Correlated with:

  • Student affect and affective learning (Gorham, 1988; many others, across cultures; recent: Pogue & AhYun, 2006), even in large classes (Messman & Jones-Corley, 2001), and even when workload demands are high (Mottet, Parker-Raley, Cunningham, Beebe, & Raffeld, 2006)
  • Student cognitive learning (Chesebro & McCroskey, 2001; Christophel, 1990; Kelley & Gorham, 1988; Titsworth, 2001), though a smaller relationship was found than for affective learning.
  • Perceived instructor competence, caring and trustworthiness (Thweatt, 1999)
  • Positive student evaluations (Moore, Masterson, Christophel, & Shea, 1996)
  • Student state motivation (Christophel, 1990; Christophel & Gorham, 1995; Frymier, 1994)
  • Attitude and background homophily with instructors (Rocca & McCroskey, 1999)
  • Interpersonal attraction (all 3 forms: task, physical, and social attraction), (Rocca & McCroskey, 1999)
  • Perceived teacher assertiveness and responsiveness (Thomas, Richmond, & McCroskey, 1994)
  • Student attendance and participation (Rocca, 2004)
  • Out-of-class communication between professors and students (Jaasma & Koper, 1999)

Immediacy is Negatively Correlated with:

  • Verbal aggression (Rocca & McCroskey, 1999)
  • Student resistance (Kearney, Plax, Smith & Sorensen, 1988)
  • Distance education classrooms (decrease in immediacy; Carrell & Menzel, 2001)

Integrating Immediacy Into Your Classroom

A teacher talking to the class while standing at the blackboard
  • You may already do some of these things!
  • If you are already engaging in some immediacy behaviors, you can make an effort to do more of them, add some that you may not do, or use some more frequently.
  • If you are not immediate at all (which is probably not the case since you're interested in affect in the classroom), start slowly and just do one at a time. If you're sharing this information with colleagues who aren't immediate, you could suggest one behavior at a time because otherwise the behavior may appear unnatural if too much is taken on at once.
  • At the times when you need more credibility (such as when giving back tests or during disciplinary issues), engage in fewer immediacy behaviors, but don't eliminate immediacy altogether.
  • Only use what you're comfortable with
  • Remember all of the positive relationships with affect-related variables

Journals and Information Sources

Communication Education is a highly-regarded national journal published by the National Communication Association. It publishes peer-reviewed manuscripts related to communication instruction, communication skills, and communication in instruction. This journal is one of the most prestigious journals in communication and considered to be the top journal in the field of instructional communication, with an acceptance rate less than 10% during most years.

The Journal on Excellence in College Teaching is an interdisciplinary peer-reviewed national academic journal. Its readership is in the thousands with many university library subscriptions. Its goal is to provide a medium to display the scholarship of teaching and learning. It has an acceptance rate of 25%.

Communication Teacher is a quarterly teaching resource dedicated to the identification and promotion of excellent teaching practices in the K-12, community college, and university classrooms. It is a peer-reviewed academic journal published by the National Communication Association.


  • Andersen, J.F. (1979). Teacher immediacy as a predictor of teaching effectiveness. In D. Nimmo (Ed.), Communication Yearbook, 3 (pp.543-559). New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books.
  • Carrell, L.J. and Menzel, K.E. (2001). Variations in learning, motivation, and perceived immediacy between live and distance education. Communication Education, 50, 230-241.
  • Chesebro, J.L. and McCroskey, J.C. (2001). The relationship of teacher clarity and immediacy with student state receiver apprehension, affect, and cognitive learning. Communication Education, 50, 59-68.
  • Christophel, D.M. (1990). The relationships among teacher immediacy behaviors, student motivation, and learning. Communication Education, 39, 323-340.
  • Christophel, D.M. and Gorham, J. (1995). A test-retest analysis of student motivation, teacher immediacy, and perceived sources of motivation and demotivation in college classes. Communication Education, 44, 292-306.
  • Frymier, A.B. (1994). A model of immediacy in the classroom. Communication Quarterly, 42, 133-144.
  • Gorham, J. (1988). The relationship between verbal teaching immediacy behaviors and student learning. Communication Education, 17, 40-53.
  • Jaasma, M.A. and Koper, R.J. (1999). The relationship between student-faculty out-of-class communication to instructor immediacy and trust, and to student motivation. Communication Education, 48, 41-47.
  • Kearney, P., Plax, T.G., Smith, V.R., and Sorensen, G. (1988). Effects of teacher immediacy and strategy type on college student resistance to on-task demands. Communication Education, 37, 54-67.
  • Kelley, D.H. and Gorham, J. (1988). Effects of immediacy on recall of information. Communication Education, 37, 198-207.
  • Mehrabian, A. (1971). Silent messages. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company.
  • Messman, S.J. and Jones-Corley, J. (2001). Effects of communication environment, immediacy, communication apprehension on cognitive and affective learning. Communication Monographs, 68, 184-200.
  • Moore, A., Masterson, J.T., Christophel, D.M., and Shea, K.A. (1996). College teacher immediacy and student ratings of instruction. Communication Education, 45, 29-39.
  • Mottet, T.P., Parker-Raley, J., Cunningham, C., Beebe, S.A., and Raffeld, P. C. (2006). Testing the neutralizing effect of instructor immediacy on student course workload expectancy violation and tolerance for instructor unavailability. Communication Education, 55, 147-166.
  • Pogue, L. and AhYun, K. (2006). The effect of teacher nonverbal immediacy and credibility on student motivation and affective learning. Communication Education, 55, 331-344.
  • Rocca, K.A. (2004). College student attendance: Impact of instructor immediacy and verbal aggression. Communication Education, 53, 185-195.
  • Rocca, K.A. and McCroskey, J. C. (1999). The interrelationship of student ratings of instructors' immediacy, verbal aggressiveness, homophily, and interpersonal attraction. Communication Education, 48, 308-316.
  • Thomas, C.E., Richmond, V. P., and McCroskey, J. C. (1994). The association between immediacy and socio-communicative style. Communication Research Reports, 11, 107-115.
  • Thweatt, K.S. (1999). The impact of teacher immediacy, teacher affinity-seeking, and teacher misbehaviors on student-perceived teacher credibility. Paper presented at the National Communication Association, Chicago, IL.
  • Titsworth, B.S. (2001). The effects of teacher immediacy, use of organizational lecture cues, and students' note-taking on cognitive learning. Communication Education, 50, 283-297.