Cultural Awareness Activity


This activity shows how our cultural beliefs affect our actions, often without our realizing it.

Estimated Time

10-15 minutes

Group Size



It is important that the instructions to the participants are worded exactly as below. If possible, we recommend using the provided PowerPoint slide to display the instructions.

Be careful that you do not refer to the activity as “Thumb Wrestling/Wars” or any other terms that suggest that the activity is a competition. Instead, simply introduce the activity in a generic way (e.g., “we are going to complete an activity in pairs”). Then read or present these instructions:

“Match up with a partner. Every time you pin your partner's thumb for three seconds, you get a point. Keep count.”

After 30 seconds have the participants stop and count the numbers of points they earned.

If you have an odd number of participants, you (or an assistant) can pair up with someone. You can modify the instructions to say “you will get a piece of candy for each point.” The activity works equally well with either set of instructions.

Tell the participants when to begin. Note that once people have paired up, they often want to start right away instead of waiting for your signal to start. For a large group, you might bring a whistle or other device that will get their attention.

At the end of the activity, ask the group “Who cooperated?” If someone in the group reports that they did, ask them why. Then ask the group “Who competed? Why?”

Point out that the instructions do not say that the activity is a competition. Remind the participants that they instructed to complete the activity with a “partner” not an “opponent.”  There was also no limit on the number of points each person could earn. Moreover, participants who cooperate (e.g., take turns holding each others' thumb for three seconds) usually earn more points than those who compete. Even so, most participants from individualistic cultures turn this activity into a competition.

Another point to mention is that the instructions do not say that people cannot talk with one another. However, the group is usually very noisy; there is often yelling and screaming at one another when competing (e.g., "Get your thumb down!" "Gotcha!" and "Quit being so slippery!").  These comments also point to the competitive approach most people take to this activity. 


Timing Device

Instructions (Points)

Instructions (Candy)

Discussion Questions