The Spectrum of Difference

The Spectrum of Difference is a popular theatre game which demonstrates how people’s attributes, preferences, opinions, and values, attitudes, and beliefs can be represented in three-dimensional space. The game serves as a way of simulating, diagnosing, and understanding how our research participants hold multiple perspectives on an issue. It also demonstrates how grounded theory’s properties and dimensions of categories operate.

Players imagine that a line, the length of a typical room, is drawn on the floor. A prompt is called out and participants walk to and stand on a place on the imaginary line that represents their position about a descriptive or values-laden issue. The imaginary line is a continuum and each endpoint represents opposite sides of the prompt. For example, the leader calls out, “Are you a cat person (pointing to one end of the imaginary line) or a dog person (pointing to the other end of the line), or do you like both equally or have no opinion (pointing to the centre)? Or maybe you align yourself more towards the cat side or dog side but not completely at the far ends (pointing towards the one-third and two-thirds areas). “Go.” Participants then move to and stand on the part of the line that they feel best represents their individual preferences for cats and/or dogs. They do not have to stand in single file; clusters around a point on the line are acceptable. The group diagnoses and discusses the results.

This same technique is repeated with a series of prompts prepared by the leader or offered by the participants. Prompts for the continuum can be realistic or metaphoric, and can focus on intrinsic, social, or thematic issues; a few examples include:

  • Are you a morning person, or a night person?
  • Are you a risk taker, or do you play it safe?
  • Are you the wind, or the wings?
  • What’s more important to you: questions or answers?
  • “I’m pro-life,” or “I’m pro-choice.”
  • “Protect our borders,” or “Tear down the fence.”

Prompts such as the latter two are examples of “hot button” issues that can generate fruitful discussion and reflection by the group if facilitated with care.