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Perceptions/Prejudice exercise


Does anyone have a useful but effective perceptions exercise which demonstrates that we can hold prejudice about people without realising it.

I'm aware of the exercise which required learners to guess what people are or do (i.e. the convicted fraudster, Union worker, Business Owner etc) exercise - but would like to try something different.

Can anyone help?
Kusham Chadha

22 Responses

  1. Prejudice
    Hi Kusham

    I don’t know if this is quite what you are after, but I have used this in the past to great effect.

    It is time to elect a new world leader. There are 3 candidates from which you can only chose one. Who will you pick?

    Candidate A: Associates with crooked politicians and consults with astrologists. He has had 2 mistresses, chain smokes and drinks 10 martinis a day.

    Candidate B: He was kicked out of office twice, sleeps until noon, was a heavy drug user in college and drinks a quart of whisky every evening.

    Candidate C: He is a decorated war hero. He is a vegetarian, doesn’t smoke and occasionally has a beer. He hasn’t had any extramarital affairs.

    Which of these candidates would you choose?

    Candidate A is Franklin D Roosevelt
    Candidate B is Winston Churchill
    Candidate C is Adolf Hitler

    When I have done this exercise with past groups, it has raised lots of questions on how we perceive people to be ‘responsible, good leaders’ and what we expect from others.

    Hope it helps!


  2. Response to question
    Hi Kusham
    I have used this in the past and it really gets people thinking.
    Get together a selection of photos of different people, old, young, different races, sizes etc. Stick them on the wall and then have people write comments on a post it note and stick them around the pictures.
    You’ll be surprised at the range of responses given and it opens the door to a discussion about hidden prejudices that we all have. Choose your pictures well and you can generate a meaningful and lively discussion!

  3. What we used to do
    We used an excercise with this in mind when training sales people at induction. It only works if some of the participants are unfamiliar with each other.

    Pair people off where the pair have no or very little prior knowledge of each other and then ask them to decide (without speaking to each other) the other persons favourite drink, where they live, what kind of house they have, what they prefer to eat, what their favourite shop is and so on. When the excerise is finished ask them to present to the group what the other person had decided about them and what the “reality” is.

    There’s almost always a major gap between perception and actuallity. Which can be used to illustrate how we carry assumptions (and indirectly prejudice) about most people based on the way they look…

    Hope that helps.


  4. Escape from Earth
    You may like to consider this group activity.


    In 40 minutes the Earth is about to be totally destroyed. All the members of your group are safely inside a rocket that can escape this disaster. There is enough food and fuel for 30 years. You are travelling in the hope that you will find somewhere habitable but this is by no means certain. The accommodation is rather cramped and there is very little opportunity for privacy.

    Your places on the rocket are safe and you cannot be asked to give them up. There are ten people outside the rocket who are hoping to escape and from these you must choose only five to fill the remaining places to balance the rocket for take off. You are the only people to escape from the world. It is in everyone’s interests that the group should make its decisions as unanimously as possible. All ten people are physically and mentally fit unless stated otherwise. You will be asked the reasons for your choices later.

    Priest age 35 – white – previously a vet – a quiet person who is often able to calm and comfort others.

    Pregnant woman age 25, and seven months pregnant – Pakistani – a good cook of Indian foods – she is in good health and expects a normal delivery – she is a practising Moslem.

    Pregnant woman’s husband age 26 – Pakistani – runs a successful building business ands is competent in all the basic construction skills.

    Armed policeman age 38 – white – awaiting promotion to Inspector – trained in the use of firearms and electronic communications – commended for bravery after rescuing two people from a burning car – leaving a wife and two children – carrying a loaded pistol.

    Footballer age 22 – male – white – also trained as a butcher – well thought of as a footballer – has a knack of rallying the team when they seem demoralised or about to face defeat – also trained as a butcher.

    Male nurse age 25 – white – qualified in both general medical and psychiatric nursing – gay – leaving behind a male companion with whom he has lived for the last five years – a regular attender of a C of E church.

    Blonde actress age 22 – white trained as a primary school teacher before becoming a successful actress in TV comedies – had a nervous breakdown four years ago.

    Geologist – age 32 – female – white – has had two children by a previous marriage – now divorced – working for a mining company identifying rock specimens – has been actively involved with an extreme religious sect.

    Science student age 20 – male – black – completed two years of a degree course in micro-electronics and computing – parents are from the West Indies – he is interested in the Rastafarian beliefs and practices.

    Teenager age 14 – female – white – still at school and interested in sciences – tends to be moody which could just be her age but her parents had arranged for her to see a psychologist next week to get advice about this.

  5. Photos exercise
    I have cut pictures of diverse people from magazines and then seperately listed a range of job titles, hobbies, pictures of houses etc. also taken from the magazine. Individuals or small groups then have to match the job/hobby/house to the person. Discuss why they decided what they did then reveal the correct matches.
    Also, as an alternative to escape from Earth, you might try the classic ‘cave rescue’.

  6. Black and White
    One of my exercises is challenging, uncomfortable and powerful.
    For it to work well, you need excellent skills in facilitating groups that ‘have been made to feel’ acute discomfort, which they may blame on you.

    Write up the following unfinished sentences:
    “All white people are…”
    “All black people are…”

    Ask for silence until you stop them writing.
    Then ask them to finish as many sentences as they can based on things they’ve thought, said or heard.
    Tell them they need never admit they’ve said or even thought these things.

    That’s the easy part! Next comes the really interesting and challenging part.

    Ask each in turn to read out ONE of the “All black people are…” statements they’ve written. You can redistrinute their statements if you’ve used slips of paper or post cards. Continue until there are no more statements, or until every one refuses to read out any more.

    Repeat with the “All white people are…”

    I first did this at a talk to a group of 40 black and white people (NO! Of course they weren’t striped people!)

    By luck (?) the first person said, somewhat aggressively, “I haven’t written anything!”
    “Would you like to say why?” I replied.
    “I don’t want to write a list of negative things about black people!”
    “Ah, so the only things you can think about black people are negative?”
    “That’s not what I meant,” she said, angrily.
    “OK, so would like to say the real reason you have a blank page?”

    Another point, people will often write truisms “All black people are people!” “All white people are humans beings.” and so on.
    These are ways of saying nothing at all – avoiding the issue!

    If the more vicious, stereotypical or ‘jokey’ statements about (black) people are uttered, common responses, “Well, I’ve never heard anyone say that kind of thing!” or “I didn’t know people thought like that!”
    I accept such statements and process them as if the person is being honest.
    How? By pointing out that, if they really don’t know that such beliefs are rampant, they really don’t know how it is to be an ethnically visible member of a minority culture.

    This exercise can be very painful in ‘mixed’ teams or other groups of diverse people who ignore, deny, discount or banter about the obvious differences. It is often the case the minority members play along, well, because the need to belong is great, or because to swim against the tide is tiring. So, again, great facilitation skills are necessary.

    Well managed, and starting from the premise that ignorance is not a sin, it’s just a starting place; this exercise can be a very profound, illuminating experience for everyone. I certainly learn something new each time I use it, not least that it still stirs discomfort in me, not only about the issues, not even my own perspective as an ethnically visible individual, but also the risk I’m taking in initiating the process.

    Go well

  7. Thank you Lisa Hodge
    great exercise you posted to TZ (Hitler, Churchhill, Roosevelt). I will use that, thank you very much.

    If I can give you any pointers on Training the Trainer, please let me know.


  8. thank yous are nice!
    How nice it is when the person who asks the question actually comes back to the people who responded!

  9. Perceptions
    You’ve had a fantastic response.Someone ought to capture these as part of a diversity manual

    I use another technique.Produce some real cases from the websites or publications of the equality commissions,EOC,CRE and DRC or Law Record. Have some mock trials around the issue to hand. A very good one is Julie Hayward’s equal pay claim against Cammell Laird,1984,Female chef trying to win – and did – equal pay for work of equal value to 3 males,joiner,heating engineer and painter. Many many rich pickings.Marshall v Devon County Council-jobshare for a HEADteacher another good one!

    Good luck


  10. More, please!
    I agree – what a fantastic response. It has encouraged me to pose a (related) question of my own – which I’ll mention here, but also post quite separately.

    I’m developing a workshop on non-verbal communciation (body language etc) and wondered if anybody had any good role plays, exercises etc. I think the problem is finding things that are do-able by people who aren’t top-notch actors!

  11. Three minutes
    Right at the beginning of a session, before we have got to know each other, I ask people to write down (about me) how old I am, what paper I read, where I am from, am I disabled, my marital status, what sort of car I drive etc etc. I tell them that thier responses are confidential. We use it to show participants that within about three minutes of meeting, we have often made up our minds about people and constructed a life for them, even though we don’t realise it. I do give the answers by the way (and in the break I sneak a look at their responses to see how old they think I am!)

  12. diversity exercise
    A matrix of attributes is distributed to learners. Examples include favorite foods, sports, pets, activities, etc. Each person “interviews” other learners who might have that attribute, trying to have each space in the matrix signed by someone with the attribute. Afterwards, we discuss WHY people selected certain others for a particular attribute. It reveals the stereotypes that we use as mental shortcuts.

  13. Suggestion for Judith Perle
    Hi Judith,
    One way of observing BL without having to develop a role-play (which many people find difficult as any role-play inherently contains comparisons with the person playing it – so BL is more likely to be inhibited rather than exhibited), is to use simple improvisation games where you get each participant to move in and out of an improvised situation (in a round-robin) so they warm up to the way of working, and then introduce themes that will bring out more obvious body language. You will get some instances of obvious BL prior, in the warm-up as most people will be feeling self-conscious and may exhibite relevant BL.
    I use this type of method a lot. Its more free-form and creative and thus contains flexibility of building many relationships between action and objective.
    Hope this helps.

  14. True or False
    One activity I have used with great effect examines assumptions and stereotypes. I write three things about myself on the flipchart (hobbies, achievements indulgences etc), two of which are true and one which is false but believeable. I then poll the group asking them which one is false. This is done quite early in the session with only a limited knowledge of myself and I encourage them not to think too long but be quite spontaneous.
    Having collated their choices I ask what influenced their choice, these tend to be 50/50 assumptions, stereotype views of a tall Yorkshirenman or judgements under the pressure of time.
    I have developed some other activites which I would be only too pleased to discuss and share with you. Good luck.

  15. Excellent ideas
    I recently attended an Employment Law programme and we were asked to solve a problem. A man and his son are in a car accident and the man dies. The son is taken to hospital as he is critical and needs brain surgery. The surgeon says “I can’t operate on him, he is my son”. What is the relationship between the surgeon and the child. Most people were baffled by this. The answer is that the surgeon is the mother but only 1 person got this correct.

    May be useful for an equal opportunities point.

    Hope this helps.


  16. Gender Stereotypes

    I sometimes use an attributions exercise whereby I provide participants with a brief background on a 14 year-old student. I include likes and dislikes, hobbies, academic performance, career ambitions etc. The title of the activity is ‘Predicting P Smith’s Future’. However, in the body of the background briefing P Smith is Paul Smith for half of the participants, and Paula Smith for the other half. It is interesting that Paul Smith always achieves so much more in his career than Paula Smith.

    I hope this helps.



  17. Gut Reactions
    Dear Kusham,

    There is another activity you can use which involves participants being paired up and being labelled A and B. A is given a set of cards with the names of groupings of people such as merchant bankers, Chinese people, women drivers. A is asked to read out what is written and B must respond with one statement immediately ie. the first thought that comes into their head. A repeats the same name and B should produce the second thought and so on. The facilitator will time the exchange and then ask the pairs to swap. B will then use a new card. Some participants can feel that they are being forced to be prejudiced but we always point out that they could have qualified their statement if it really was their first thought! Eg. “It is often said that…” or “some…” or as an earlier writer mentioned only ‘true’ statement could be made eg. all merchant bankers have a connection with a merchant bank!!

    Jo Bloxham

  18. This article could be guilty of racism.
    Think about what this sentence says. Racism should be matched with: “In the UK this generally means all the attitudes, systems and procedures, the effect of which regardless of intention, creates and maintains the power, influence and well-being of white people at the expense of black and other ethnic minority people.”
    This actually implies that there is no racism towards white people or that people from minority ethnic backgrounds can not be racist themselves. Perhaps Eddie Newell should consider rethinking the examples used in this context.

  19. Prejudice PLUS Power?
    You quote >>> “In the UK this generally means all the attitudes, systems and procedures, the effect of which regardless of intention, creates and maintains the power, influence and well-being of white people at the expense of black and other ethnic minority people.”

    and you say

    >>> This actually implies that there is no racism towards white people or that people from minority ethnic backgrounds can not be racist themselves. <<<<

    I’m intrigued to know how that statement implies what you say it does. It refers to ways that a majority groups (non-black in the UK) support and maintain, albiet without awareness, malice or intent, a system that disadvantages minority groups.
    Minority group members, being human, can indulge in all the same vices as the majority group but, usually and certainly in the UK (despite what people claim for whatever reasons, the most benign being ignorance), the minority lack the power or clout to have much significant impact on the majority.

    You might be as fascinated as I am to ask people what percentage of the UK population is ethnically visible. Answers will range from 4% to 50%!
    what would YOU guess, dear reader?
    If you know, you know, but if not, before checking, why not post your answers?

    What ever your limiting or liberatng beliefs, go well!


  20. 3 minutes

    I  am a tutor in health and social care and I’d like to thank you for this brilliant exercise

    I used it and it went very well, not to mention fascinating for me!!

    thank you very much


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