In this article, authors Lawson, McDonough, and Bodle discuss their social experiment aimed at identifying whether role-playing can be effective at reducing prejudiced comments. The experiment was established similarly to that of Plous (2000) in that the point was to not only inform students about prejudice but also ways in which they can combat prejudice outside the classroom. The object of Plous’ experiment was for the speaker of the exercise to discuss a topic and inject a prejudiced statement at some point. The responder’s role is to engage the speaker in a manner that does not make him/her hostile or defensive. Coaches then gave feedback to the quality of the response. The goal of Plous’ experiment was to confront prejudice to lead to its reduction rather than reinforcement.
In this article’s experiment, the authors wanted to see if the subjects who participated in a role-playing exercise were more or less likely to effectively confront instances of prejudice than those subjects in the control groups. The experiment included 61 students from three different undergraduate courses (social psychology, police and society, and intro to psychology). The social psychology students (23) were the ones exposed to the role-playing exercise while the police and society (12) and into to psychology (26) were in the control group and did not participate in the role-playing exercise. The social psychology students kept a log for a week of all the instances of prejudice they experienced in their daily lives. Prior to the role-playing exercise, all participants took a pre-test consisting of 5 scenarios containing brief background information and a prejudice statement. Each participant was asked to write down how they would respond. Responses were coded as either being effective or ineffective. For the role-playing exercise, 5 scenarios were chosen and given to each group (4-5 students) so each participant could select a different scenario previously unseen by the group. Someone would read the scenario and include the prejudiced statement, a responder would retort, a coach would provide feedback, and the remaining students were there to provide dialog for the scenario. After discussion on which types of responses were most effective, the students in the experiment were asked to go out and use these techniques they learned in real life situations. They were then to record these incidents in a second log. Afterward, all students took a post-test that was identical to the pre-test.
The results of the experiment showed that those who participated in the role-playing exercise demonstrated significantly higher levels of effective responses in the post-test when compared to the pre-test. Those students in the two control groups showed no significant changes between the pre and post-tests. However, the intro to psychology students showed a significant decrease in the number of effective responses from the pre to post-test.
This article’s findings suggest that role-playing can be an effective tool at training the mind to respond in a certain way. I am not surprised those who participated in an experiment where they were told what the right answers look like did better on the post-test than those who didn’t have it spelled out for them. The authors themselves even admit that even though their experiment suggests role-playing works, they have no proof of its effectiveness in the real world. As was pointed out by the authors in the article, the human response to prejudice is similar to that of bystander intervention in an emergency. One has to first identify an act as prejudice, decide it constitutes something harmful, take responsibility for responding, and select the appropriate response. The audience is another variable not discussed in the set-up of this scenario. One will undoubtedly respond differently to family members, friends, and strangers depending on the scenario at hand. I believe role-playing can be effective at preparing the participant for a potential future scenario. However, the effectiveness of the role-playing depends largely on the details of the scenario. Much the same way war-gaming depends on the details in order to be effective. Simply running participants through a couple exercises is by no means enough training to be prepared for all possible future scenarios. But like many of the other methods we’ve discussed so far, it will at least make the participants more comfortable and knowledgeable by giving them a broader base of experiences on which to draw.
Lawson, T. J., McDonough, T. A., & Bodle, J. H. (2010). Confronting prejudiced comments: Effectiveness of a role-playing exercise. Teaching of Psychology, 37(4), 257-261.
Plous, S. (2000). Responding to overt displays of prejudice: A role-playing exercise. Teaching of Psychology, 27, 198–200.