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Psychological Exercises

Fear in a Hat

Description of a Group Interpersonal Understanding Exercise

James Neill
Last updated:
03 Sep 2004

Fear in a Hat

  • Collect participants fears in a hat, tin or bagSet an appropriate tone, e.g., settled, attentive, caring and serious. 

  • The tone could be set by introducing the topic of fear and explaining how it is normal and natural at this stage of program that people are experiencing all sorts of anxieties, worries and fears about what might happen.  A good way of starting to deal with these fears is have them openly acnkowledged - lay them on the table, without being subject to ridicule.  Having one's fears expressed and heard almost immediately cuts them in half.

  • Can be done as the first activity in a program, during the initial stages or well into the program.  When used early on in particular, it can help to foster group support and be helpful for alerting the group to issues they may want to respect in a Full Value Contract.

  • Ask everyone, including the group leaders, to complete this sentence on a piece of paper (anonymously):
    "In this trip/group/program, I am [most] afraid that..." or "In this trip/group/program, the worst thing that could happen to me would be..."

  • Collect the pieces of paper, mix them around, then invite each person to a piece of paper and read about someone's fear.

  • One by one, each group member reads out the fear of another group member and elaborates and what he/she feels that person is most afraid of in this group/situation.  No one is to comment on what the person says, just listen and move on to the next person.

  • If the reader doesn't elaborate much on the fear, then ask them one or two questions.  Avoid implying or showing your opinion as to the fear being expressed, unless the person is disrepecting or completely misunderstanding someone's fear.  If the person doesn't elaborate after one or two questions, leave it and move on.

  • When all the fears have been read out and elaborated on, then discuss what people felt and noticed.

  • Can lead into other activities, such as developing a Full Group Contract, personal or team goal settings, course briefings which specifically tackle some of the issues raised, or into other activities in which participants explore their feelings and fears (e.g., see the Fear in a Hat description at


  • Likes and dislikes - in two separate hats

  • Worries

  • Complaints/gripes

  • Wishes

  • Favorite moments





Paper and pen/pencil per participant; Hat, tin or bag.

~5 minutes + 1-2 minutes per participant, e.g., 15-20 minutes for a group of 10.

Brief description:
People write personal fears anonymously on pieces of paper which are collected.  Then each person reads someone else's fear to group and explains how the person might feel.

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