Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences


Communication Studies

Committee Chair

Alan Goodboy

Committee Member

Angela Hosek

Committee Member

Matthew Martin

Committee Member

Scott Myers


The purpose of this dissertation was to examine the causal influences of relevant (and irrelevant) instructor self-disclosure on student affect and cognitive learning. Relevant self-disclosure involves the instructor directly relating personal disclosures to important lesson content, whereas irrelevant self-disclosure involves the instructor’s personal disclosures straying from the lesson topic. Given previous correlational self-disclosure research, the researcher predicted that relevant (compared to irrelevant) instructor self-disclosure would lead to increased reports of affect toward the instructor. The researcher also predicted that instructor self-disclosure relevance (compared to irrelevance) would enhance lesson coherence, and in turn, foster students’ cognitive learning. The researcher conducted a 15-minute live lecture teaching experiment on the topic of affectionate communication. The researcher randomly assigned students to attend a lecture with an instructor who used either relevant self-disclosure or irrelevant self-disclosure. Participants were 265 undergraduate students who listened to the instructor’s 15-minute lecture and then completed a feedback questionnaire that included a short test on the lesson material and asked students to report on affect, lesson coherence, instructor credibility, topic familiarity, and lesson difficulty. Findings revealed that relevant instructor self-disclosure increased student affect in their likelihood to enroll with the same instructor again for a future class. However, relevant self-disclosure did not influence students’ general affect toward the instructor. Moreover, instructor self-disclosure relevance did not operate indirectly through lesson coherence to influence student test scores. However, there was a significant direct effect of self-disclosure relevance on student test scores such that, on average, students in the irrelevant condition scored 8.70% points lower on the short-term recall test. Overall, the results revealed that instructors should make sure that their personal disclosures are relevant to the lesson content or else it may significantly reduce student learning. The findings, theoretical implications, teaching implications, limitations, and suggestions for future research are discussed.