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Volunteering at Scouts is changing to help us reach more young people

Volunteering is changing to help us reach more young people

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Learn about affinity bias

Play the tag game and find out about the idea of affinity bias, then see what we all share in common.

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You’ll need

  • Scrap paper
  • Sticky tape
  • Pens or pencils
  • Coloured paper

Before you begin

  • Use the safety checklist to help you plan and risk assess your activity. Additional help to carry out your risk assessment, including examples can be found here. Don’t forget to make sure all young people and adults involved in the activity know how to take part safely.
  • Make sure you’ll have enough adult helpers. You may need some parents and carers to help if you’re short on helpers.

Planning this activity

  • Prepare tags or stickers for everyone. You could make your own by cutting shapes out of coloured paper or you could use stickers. The tags should be a mix of colours, shapes, patterns and sizes. For example, you may have a few purple tags but they may be circles, squares, and triangles and square, spotty, and stripy.
  • Make sure you’re ready to talk about affinity bias and what it is. It’s a good idea to do this before your session so you feel prepared to lead a discussion. It’s important not to tell the people taking part in the activity that it’s about affinity bias until you’re ready to put it all together.
  • If you want some extra support or information for discussing Black History Month with young people, take a look at our advice and resources for talking about Black History Month.

When we gravitate towards people who’re like us, it’s called affinity bias.

It’s in our human nature to tend to enjoy spending time with or agree more with others who are similar to us. They may share our values and beliefs or have thoughts and opinions that align with ours. Having these things in common makes us feel more comfortable.

Our feelings for someone may only be based on nothing more than their age, where they live, their job, their opinions, or even the films they like and music they listen to. We may like or agree with someone simply because we believe or know that they like or agree with us, too.

Affinity bias can lead us to make or form decisions about people, things, our opinions and events based on feelings alone, without taking a moment to think rationally. However, if we stopped and thought about it, there’s usually no logical reason for our decision.

But, there’s a limit to the principle of affinity bias. It can turn into discrimination.

Affinity bias is a learned behaviour, and it can reach extremes, which can lead to people becoming racist, homophobic or sexist. This happens when the people with who a person identifies with need to be of a specific race, ability, sexuality or gender – often the same as them.

This happens when a person feels so strongly about their beliefs and opinions that they become too attached to people who’re like them. Anyone who’s different with them evokes a strong negative response. The person refuses to interact or associate with those who aren’t like them or who don’t think in the same way as they do.

People may automatically look at people who are different or think differently than they do as ignorant or even as unintelligent. Affinity bias can cause us to ignore facts and evidence, too.

One way that affinity bias is most obvious is in the hiring process. Often, managers say that they would hire a less-qualified candidate if they liked them.

Our brains make quick decisions based on feelings, but when we’re assessing potential employees for an important position, emotions and feelings need to be taken out of the process. Instead of looking for someone they like, the hirer needs to look for someone who has the most relevant skills and/or experience, and who can do their job well.

The way out of affinity bias is to try our best to look at all aspects of an issue before deciding. Even if we believe that one person’s point of view is clearly right, we need to listen to and give others a chance to voice their opinions.

By making ourselves aware of how our affinity with others can affect our thoughts and behaviour in relation to other people, we can work to minimise its impact. We can then make more inclusive choices when it comes to important issues and people.

Affinity bias is often linked to complicit bias and expectation bis. Complicit bias happens if you detect bias in another person or situation and you don't do anything about it. Expectation bias occurs when someone hears or sees something that they expect to hear or see, rather than what may be occurring.


The tag game

  1. The person leading the game should give everyone their own tag. Everyone should stick their tag to their top, between their waist and their shoulders.
  2. Everyone should move around the space, while being aware of others around them. 
  1. After a few minutes, ask everyone to get into small groups without talking.
  1. Once the groups have formed, everyone should break apart again. People should now continue to move around the space.
  2. Everyone should repeat steps three and four a few times. Keep making several groups without talking.
  3. Once you've made a few groups, people should gather in a large circle.
  4. Ask everyone how they decided on how to split up into their groups.
  5. Discuss if anyone looked beyond the tags or if anyone intentionally formed a diverse group with different shapes, colours, patterns and sizes.



The circle of trust

  1. Set out some scrap paper and pens in a large circle.
  2. Everyone should choose a spot and sit by the pile of equipment.
  3. Ask people to write the initials of up to 10 people that they trust the most down the left of their piece of paper. They can't include family members.
  4. The person leading the activity should name a diversity characteristic, such as gender, age, race, religion or ethnicity.
  5. Everyone should put a tick next to the people on their list who share that characteristic with themselves.
  1. Repeat steps four and five with other diversity characteristics.
  2. Everyone should look at their list of people. How many characteristics do they share with their trusted people? Which characteristic do most of their list share? Are there any people on their list who only have one or two ticks?
  3. Anyone who feels comfortable could share some of their thoughts with everyone else.



Put it all together

  1. Everyone should think of some ways that people are the same. For example, they all have bodies, all need energy to keep going, and so on.
  2. Everyone should think of some ways that people are different. For example, they have different backgrounds, likes and dislikes, and dreams and ambitions.
  3. The person leading the activity should explain that everyone shares a human experience while being unique. At the same time, we’re all more like some people than others.
  4. Everyone should think back to the first game. How did they split into groups? Some people probably relied on similarities between their tags. Similarly, it’s likely that everyone’s trusted people list was filled with people like them.
  5. The person leading the activity should explain that affinity bias is the name given to the way that we tend to prefer and trust people who are like us. Everyone should chat about why this might be a problem.


This activity helped to introduce the concept of diversity and affinity bias (one type of unconscious bias). Were people surprised to hear about affinity bias? How did they feel when they looked back on their groups in the tag game and their list of trusted people? What are some of the benefits and challenges of working in groups with people who are similar or different?

Everyone should think about some of the groups they’re part of, for example, a class at school, a sports team, or a friendship group. Are these groups full of people who are similar or different to themselves? Everyone should get into pairs and chat about how they could learn more about diversity in their everyday lives and interactions. People could take it in turns to share their ideas if they want to.


All activities must be safely managed. You must complete a thorough risk assessment and take appropriate steps to reduce risk. Use the safety checklist to help you plan and risk assess your activity. Always get approval for the activity, and have suitable supervision and an InTouch process.

Active games

The game area should be free of hazards. Explain the rules of the game clearly and have a clear way to communicate that the game must stop when needed. Take a look at our guidance on running active games safely.

In the tag game, you can change the way people move around the space, the number of people that should be in the smaller groups, or the amount of time they have to organise themselves in each round.

  • Only ask people to move around the space in ways that work for everyone.
  • Make sure that everyone can see the different badges that you use in the game, choose shapes, sizes and colours that are as different as possible.
  • People could hold their tags if they don’t want to stick them to their tops.
  • If people aren’t comfortable sharing with the group, people could get into pairs or small groups to chat about what they’ve learned instead.

All Scout activities should be inclusive and accessible.

Why not check out a virtual book club on Race to the Frozen North or The Black Flamingo, or run a Night at the movies to explore some more ideas to discuss race or racism with your group?