Analysis of Jane Elliott's "A Class Divided" Experiment

In the realm of social psychology, numerous experiments have sought to explore the complexities of human behavior, prejudice, and discrimination. One such groundbreaking study is Jane Elliott's "A Class Divided" experiment, conducted in the 1960s.

Jane Elliott, a third-grade teacher from Riceville, Iowa, designed the "A Class Divided" experiment as a response to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In order to simulate the experience of discrimination, Elliott divided her class into two groups based on their eye color: blue-eyed and brown-eyed students.

The arbitrary division aimed to create a simulated social hierarchy, where one group was treated favorably while the other group faced discrimination.

On the first day, Elliott declared that blue-eyed children were superior and introduced a set of rules that favored them. Conversely, she informed the brown-eyed children that they were inferior and subjected them to discriminatory treatment. The following day, the roles were reversed, with the brown-eyed students receiving preferential treatment while the blue-eyed students experienced discrimination.

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Throughout the experiment, Elliott observed and documented the students' reactions, behaviors, and attitudes.

Elliott's "A Class Divided" experiment yielded compelling findings that shed light on the power of prejudice and discrimination. The study revealed that the children quickly adopted the assigned roles and internalized the associated stereotypes. Students who were treated favorably exhibited increased confidence, assertiveness, and even became more discriminatory towards their classmates. On the other hand, the children subjected to discrimination experienced decreased self-esteem, a sense of powerlessness, and demonstrated reduced academic performance.

Moreover, the experiment highlighted the rapid formation of in-group and out-group dynamics.

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Students in the dominant group exhibited a sense of entitlement and superiority, while those in the marginalized group faced feelings of alienation and exclusion. The emotional impact of the experiment was profound, as many students expressed confusion, anger, and sadness throughout the process. The findings of this experiment challenge the notion that prejudice and discrimination are solely products of individual beliefs, emphasizing the role of social context in shaping behavior and attitudes.

Elliott's experiment continues to hold immense relevance in today's society, where prejudice and discrimination persist in various forms. The study offers valuable insights into the mechanisms through which prejudice is learned and perpetuated, and underscores the importance of addressing these biases early in life. By exposing the students to discrimination based on an arbitrary characteristic, the experiment highlighted the arbitrary nature of prejudice and aimed to create empathy and understanding among participants.

The "A Class Divided" experiment also brings attention to the power of education and its potential to challenge and mitigate prejudice. Elliott's subsequent work with educators demonstrated the effectiveness of diversity training and inclusive teaching methods in reducing bias and fostering empathy. It serves as a reminder that educators play a vital role in combating prejudice and discrimination by promoting tolerance, understanding, and equality among students.

Furthermore, Elliott's experiment has influenced subsequent research on prejudice and discrimination, inspiring scholars to investigate the psychological and social factors that contribute to bias. It has paved the way for further exploration of implicit biases, stereotype threat, and intergroup dynamics, enriching our understanding of the complexities surrounding prejudice and discrimination.

Jane Elliott's "A Class Divided" experiment remains a powerful and influential study that provides crucial insights into the dynamics of prejudice and discrimination. By artificially creating a social hierarchy based on an arbitrary characteristic, the experiment exposed the rapid internalization of stereotypes and the lasting impact of discrimination on individuals. Moreover, it emphasized the role of education in challenging and mitigating prejudice, and continues to inspire scholars in their pursuit of understanding and combating bias.

In contemporary society, where prejudices persist, Elliott's experiment reminds us of the importance of fostering empathy, understanding, and equality. By recognizing the arbitrary nature of prejudice, and through educational efforts, we can work towards creating a more inclusive and tolerant society, free from discrimination. The "A Class Divided" experiment serves as a constant reminder of the power we hold in shaping attitudes and behaviors, and the responsibility we have to dismantle prejudice in all its forms.

Updated: Jul 02, 2023
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Analysis of Jane Elliott's "A Class Divided" Experiment. (2023, Jul 02). Retrieved from

Analysis of Jane Elliott's "A Class Divided" Experiment essay
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