- Large Group (10+)
People greet each other at an imaginary party, reacting to others based on their status (as depicted in a playing card). Because many people perceive that they have low status, and have the mindset of being powerless, this activity helps them learn that they can take action to change it.
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People always prove quite enthusiastic to debrief this activity. Ask them how it felt to be high-status. Usually, the Kings and Queens have funny stories about how people wanted their autographs or wanted to take selfies with them. Then ask people how they knew that they were low-status. They usually have anecdotes about how they felt invisible, or worse. (Fortunately many of these stories are quite humorous, too, because people know that it’s just a game.)
Yet this debrief also brings up very strong feelings and emotions. Some people who were low-status talk about how it felt to be ignored and rejected. Many people decry how we treat people based on their status, and there are some who even engage in civil disobedience, treating everyone equally regardless of what it says on their forehead.
After debriefing, you can talk about how status is something that we internalize. But we can act as if we do have positions of high power, and people often treat us accordingly. In other words, we can take action over how we present ourselves to the world.
As Keith Payne, a Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of North Carolina (UNC) writes in his excellent book, The Broken Ladder: “We have to take subjective perceptions of status seriously because they reveal so much about people’s fates. If you place yourself on a lower rung [of a ladder of status], then you are more likely in the coming years to suffer from depression, anxiety, and chronic pain…The lower the rung you select, the more prone you are to weight issues, diabetes, and heart problems. The lower the rung you select, the fewer years you have left to live…. These things are more likely to happen to you if you feel poor, regardless of your actual income.” In other words, it is more our perception of status than our actual status that determines our health and happiness. We can take action to change our perception and the perception that others might have of us.
Transformative Action Institute, based on popular improv activity on status
A. Singh-Manoux, N.E. Adler, and M.G. Marmot. (2003) Subjective social status: Its determinants and its association with measures of ill-health in the Whitehall II study. Social Science & Medicine 56, 1321-1333.