The nine to 15-year-olds chose relatives and friends rather than celebrities as role models, with girls favouring sympathetic and supportive characteristics, and boys physical prowess.
Boys did not identify with male or female teachers, ranking them 10th out of 11 options, well behind footballers and fictional characters. Girls put them sixth. The research suggests government efforts to recruit more male staff to act as role models for boys may not have the desired effect.
Dr Mary Thornton, who conducted the study with Dr Pat Bricheno at Hertfordshire University, said: "Teachers have less impact than parents or the Government might wish. They lack the cachet of David Beckham and rarely have the physical prowess some boys look for or the caring and supportive role parents have."
The findings confirm research in the past decade which has shown that peers have more influence on boys than teachers. Even so, a study by London's Institute of Education in June found that recruiting more men would meet parents' wishes for male role models.
The Teacher Training Agency aims to raise the proportion of men in primary training by 20 per cent each year for the next three years until they make up one in five staff. At present the proportion is 12.8 per cent.
'Model, hero or protector? Children's views about role models' by Mary Thornton and Pat Bricheno, University of Hertfordshire