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Outgroup experiment reveals bias, stereotyping


  • Psychology
  • Sociology
  • Communication


  • 6-8
  • 9-12
  • Advanced

Special Note: This activity demands special and careful instruction if used with students in grades 6-8; not recommended for students in those grades who are not mature enough to handle and discuss the project.

Brief description

Students dress as members of "outgroups" and observe the communication /reactions that take place.


Students will

  • experience and/or observe how others communicate with a member of an "outgroup."
  • learn how false assumptions and/or stereotyping can influence communication.


stereotype, outgroup, communication, perception

Materials needed

  • clothing, makeup, other appropriate props (provided by students)

The lesson

Our experiences, attitudes and beliefs naturally affect the way we interact with others. But how often do we stop to think about our own biases? How often do we analyze how we treat others who are "different" than us? By having students dress as members of "outgroups," interact with other individuals on campus, and observe the communication that takes place, this activity allows students to gain an inside understanding of how false assumptions and stereotyping can have an impact on -- or even hinder -- communication.

Arrange students into groups of four or five. Each group should choose one member to complete the experiment. The other students will be observers. The group should decide which outgroup they would like to represent. For example, the student might present himself/herself as

  • a homeless person;
  • a "goth";
  • an elderly person

Group members will gather all clothing, makeup, and props necessary to transform the selected member of the group into a member of the chosen outgroup. It should be stressed that their portrayal of the outgroup should be respectful and should not mock the outgroup in any way. This is an exercise to gain empathy, not an opportunity to make fun of a group. The group should assist the member to become the "outgrouper," making it as believable a transformation as possible.

The "outgrouper" from each team should leave the classroom, followed by his or her group. The key to this activity is that group members must remain at a distance from the student; they are there only to discreetly observe. The outgrouper student might complete some of the following tasks, or other appropriate tasks determined by students:

  • Check out a book at the school library
  • Ask another student for a quarter to make a call
  • Inquire at the campus main office about admissions information
  • Buy food or drink at the campus cafeteria
  • Ask a faculty member for directions to a building

The outgrouper's team members should observe others' reactions to the student -- including the reactions of those with whom the outgrouper directly interacts and those around him/her. Often, reactions are quite strong to the outgrouper's appearance; students might observe laughter, discomfort, rudeness, and so on. The team should also note verbal and nonverbal communication that occurs with the student.

Alternative approach
Students might be asked to complete this experiment by themselves as a homework assignment. They can complete the assignment by going to the mall or the store (and so on) and reporting how it felt to be treated as a member of an outgroup. This can be a useful variation, as there isn't a team nearby for support. Students might be required to submit a photo of themselves dressed in outgroup attire.


When students return to the classroom, have them quickly write their initial perceptions of what took place. Here are some questions that might help guide students' thinking:

  • How did other students react to the student?
  • How did faculty/administration members react to the student?
  • Was the student treated differently than if he/she looked "normal"?
  • Was communication impacted? If so, how?

Then, have each group report on what happened during their experiment. It is especially interesting to hear from the students who were "outgroupers." Explore how they felt having to look and dress differently. Use answers to the above questions and reports on the experiments to generate a discussion on some or all of these topics:

  • The idea of perception as one of the basic foundations of communication
  • How perception can lead to false assumptions about individuals
  • How perception and/or false assumptions about individuals can lead to stereotyping
  • The idea of "outgroups" in society, as created by false assumptions and stereotyping
  • How being perceived as a member of an outgroup could affect communication, both for the individual and for others interacting with the individual.

You might also ask students to write a reflection paper on the experience; in that paper, they might explore what happened during the experiment and if, and/or how, they have been guilty of some of the negative communication and/or stereotyping they have witnessed.

Submitted By

Marcie Pachter, Palm Beach Community College in Lake Worth, Florida

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