Up, down, right, left

Objective: The goal of this activity is to help participants experience the challenges of unlearning previous associations, emphasizing the need to unlearn to learn something new. Minimum group size: 2


  1. Brief the Participants: Ask all participants to stand up. Let them know that they will be given instructions on which direction to look, and they should respond by tilting their heads in the indicated direction. Emphasize that only the head should move, not the entire body.
  2. Explain the Details: Provide clarity on how to respond to the instructions. When you say “Up,” participants should tilt their heads to look at the ceiling or sky. When you say “Down,” they should lower their heads to look at the floor or their feet. “Left” and “Right” require participants to turn their heads accordingly.
  3. Give Directions: Start giving instructions using the words “up,” “down,” “left,” and “right” in a random order. Encourage participants to follow your directions, keeping the pace fairly rapid.
  4. Change the Meaning: After about a minute of following the initial instructions, inform the participants that you are going to make a change. Explain that from now on, “up” will mean “down” and vice versa. So, when you say “Down,” they should actually look up at the ceiling, and when you say “Up,” they should look down at their feet. Make it clear that “left” and “right” will remain the same. Continue to call out the four directions in a random order and ask the participants to follow the new instructions. Expect many “mistakes” and laughter.
  5. Conclude the Session: After another minute or so, announce the end of the activity.

Learning Points:

  • Unlearning is a Challenge: This activity illustrates that unlearning old concepts is not easy and can be confusing. It demonstrates that you need to let go of previous knowledge or habits to adapt to new procedures or ways of doing things.
  • Interference of Old Ways: The old way of doing things can interfere with learning new procedures. Participants experience firsthand how their pre-existing associations and habits can affect their ability to adapt to new instructions.

This activity is a fun and engaging way to highlight the cognitive challenges associated with unlearning and adapting to new information or processes. It promotes self-awareness and underscores the importance of being open to change and receptive to new learning.