Thiagi Group

Cover Up

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5 - 101 + Low
This exercise deals with the importance of unlearning. The facilitator gives instructions to cover one of your ears or eyes. Later, the facilitator refers to the left ear as nose and the right eye as mouth. Subsequent instructions slow down your performance.


To unlearn old terminology before you can learn new terminology.




Brief the participants. Explain that you will specify the right or left eye or ear. Each participant should cover the specific eye or ear. Demonstrate the activity by calling out “Left ear” and cupping one of your hands over the left ear.

Get the participants following your instructions at a rapid rate. Keep calling out the specific eye or ear in a random order:

  • Right ear
  • Left eye
  • Right ear
  • Left ear

Just call out the specific eye or ear. Don't cover your eye or ear.

Change the terminology. Explain that saying right ear or left eye is time consuming. To increase the speed of action, you are going to use this single-word terminology:

  • Ear refers to the right ear.
  • Nose refers to the left ear.
  • Mouth refers to the right eye.
  • Eye refers to the left eye.

Explain that you will merely name the part of the face without saying anything. The participants have to correctly interpret the terminology and cover the appropriate part of their face.

Repeat the terminology and demonstrate the appropriate covering behavior.

Call out parts of the face using the new terminology. Randomly repeat these words: eye, ear, nose, and mouth. Do not demonstrate the activity. Pause after each word and encourage the participants to check if everyone is touching the correct part of their face.


Ask the participants if they found the new terminology more difficult to interpret than the old one. Ask them why this is so.

Ask the participants if it would have been easier to use entirely new words or foreign words (such as our for the left ear and ague for the right eye). Encourage the participants to justify their response.

Explain the concept of negative transfer of training: Previously learned (and overlearned) habits interfere with the learning of new habits that share similar cues. To avoid this type of interference, people have to unlearn their previous habits in order to master the new habits.

Ask the participants for examples of negative transfer. Ask them specifically for examples where the same word (such as objective) means different things in different contexts.

Learning Point

  1. Similarities in contexts (or cues) make it difficult to master new responses.
  2. We have to unlearn previous skills and knowledge before we can learn new patterns of responses to the same or similar cues.


Source: Thiagi Group

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