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University of Connecticut Social Psychology Intergroup Relations

Teaching Resources for Power Basis Theory


Power Basis Theory :: Description :: Researching Power :: Findings :: Teaching Resources :: Collaborators :: Bibliography

Class Discussions or Response Papers

  • To prompt ideas about what power is, whether it is admired or immoral, and relationships to group position and group stereotypes, ask questions such as: Who are people or groups who have very little power? Would you like to be like them? Why? Who are people or groups with much power?
  • To prompt consideration of different kinds of power and different power relations, contrast concrete examples of those who are powerful in different ways. For example, "Is a soldier as powerful as a judge?" "Is a parent as powerful as the president?" "Is a CEO as powerful as a doctor?" Such contrasts can encourage students to think about the different ways people can be powerful, how much power depends on consent, how particular kinds of power inhere in particular kinds of relationships.
  • To teach people how power is fungible (transferable):  Have small groups complete a fungibility table where each kind of power is both a row and column. In the boxes, fill in answers to questions such as "If a person or group has {type of power, such as knowledge}, how could they use it to gain another {type of power, such as potential violence, money, legitimacy, etc)? "

Class Demonstrations Using the In Game

  • Use a basic game set-up and after players play for a while, ask them to discuss what each color token is like in real life. For family members or peers, a therapist or facilitator can ask questions such as, "When Player D did XXX, did that seem familiar? or "how did you feel?" or "What did you wish you could do back?"
  • Variations on the game for class demonstrations:
  • Provide each player in the game with separate goals in an envelope. For example, "Get the most green tokens you can." "Help Player X as much as possible." "Make sure no one in your session goes out of the game." Comparing a few different games in the same room with different goals will show dramatic differences in outcomes and in people's approval of other's game play. Ask players who were given different goals what kind of person they felt like while playing (e.g., a robber, a peace-maker, a fairy godmother, a capitalist). This helps to illustrate that people can use power to different ends, that other people's goals are not always what they seem, that there are different ways of realizing goals, and that people may be concerned about how they come across to others.  For example, in one class demonstration, each player was given the goal of helping Player C the most (including Player C, who never caught on to this). One player did so by accumulating force tokens, one player did this by giving Player C tokens and advice, one player did so by trying to disarm the other players (getting them to give up their force tokens). 
  • Set up some kinds of unfairness in the game -- perhaps manipulating whether this is obvious to all or is somewhat hidden. For example, if you start the game with all players having the same number of tokens, but then the event deck makes them systematically unequal, this is noticed less than if you start the players with unequal numbers of tokens. Ask players how fair the rules or conditions centering on the unfairness were. Ask whether they think the players who did not do as well were less skilled than the others. Ask them how fair it would be to compensate for the unfairness (e.g., by using force tokens, changing the rules). Ask them to think of analogies in "real life." Is it fair to use force to get resources if you can't seem to get them any other way? What kinds of people start ahead and what kinds start behind?
  • For players with some experience with the game, have them discuss how they would change the game to make the games come out like their "ideal society." Would they have a rule that no player can have more than 4 green tokens more than another player? Should players have to redistribute tokens every few turns? Should players be allowed to keep secrets about their tokens from each other? This can be a way for political science and philosophy and sociology classes to recognize that to establish government, laws, economic rules, one has to decide how people may react to those. Is it more effective to restrain behavior or to provide people with goals or with cultural norms? Is it more effective to reward certain behavior or to punish it? Is humiliation a worse punishment than being "poor" or being ostracized?
  • Provide some kind of social norms to players (perhaps only to some of them) at the beginning of the game. For example, you might tell certain players that people who enjoyed the game the most were the ones who got the most blue tokens. Our research group has successfully changed the behavior and of all the players in a session, and collective outcomes like inequality, by privately giving only half the players a norm like, "Most people like and respect people who are concerned about others." 

Demonstration Game Materials to be posted soon

A 4-player event deck    Rule cards  Post-game impressions    During-game well-being    Experimenter Script    Post-game trait ratings of players