What Is a Discrepant Element?

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A discrepant element is something that does not fit with the other things in a group. It is different or does not match the pattern. Here are 3 key things to know about discrepant elements:

  • A discrepant element stands out because it is not like the others in the group.
  • It can be used to get people to think more deeply and question their assumptions.
  • Discrepant elements show up in many areas like science, psychology, and teaching.

What does “discrepant” mean?

The word “discrepant” means different from or disagreeing with something. “Discrepant” comes from the word “discrepancy” which means a lack of consistency or agreement.

So a “discrepant element” is one part of a group that does not match or agree with the rest. It sticks out and does not seem to belong with the other elements.

Here is an example:

Group of musical instruments: guitar, piano, trumpet, banana

The banana is the discrepant element here. It does not fit with the other musical instruments in the group.

Why are discrepant elements important?

Discrepant elements are important because they make people stop and think. When everything fits together, you do not really need to question it. But when something does not match, it grabs your attention.

Discrepant elements show that your previous ideas might be incomplete or wrong. They challenge your assumptions. This pushes you to learn more in order to understand why the discrepant element does not fit the pattern.

So discrepant elements are useful for encouraging deeper thinking and getting people to reconsider their existing beliefs. They spark curiosity to figure out the reasons behind the difference.

How are discrepant elements used?

Discrepant elements show up in many fields, including science, psychology, and education. Here are some examples of how they are used:


In science, a discrepant event is an experiment or observation that gives results not matching the expected outcome. For example, mixing two colorless liquids could produce a brightly colored liquid. This challenges a student’s assumptions and leads to learning.

Discrepant elements also appear when data points do not fit the overall pattern seen in the data. These outliers make scientists re-examine their hypotheses and theories.


In psychology, discrepant information can be used to get people to change strongly held beliefs or biases. For example, studies may expose people to examples that contradict stereotypes about certain groups. This discrepancy causes deeper thinking about why the belief is not always true.


Teachers often use discrepant questions or discrepant events to get students engaged. A discrepant question presents information conflicting with what students already think is true. A discrepant event demonstrates an unexpected result. In both cases, the discrepancy grabs interest and sparks learning.

Examples of discrepant elements

Here are some more examples of discrepant elements that do not match the pattern:

  • A group of animals – dog, cat, cow, chair
  • A lineup of numbers – 2, 4, 6, 45
  • A list of liquids – water, oil, juice, rock
  • A set of foods – pizza, hamburger, fries, sunglasses

The chair, 45, rock, and sunglasses are the discrepant elements in these groups. They stand out as clearly different from the other items.

Seeing these discrepancies leads you to ask questions: Why is the chair in the animal group? What makes 45 different from the other numbers? This deeper thinking helps improve understanding.

How can discrepant elements improve learning?

Discrepant elements are useful teaching tools because they:

  • Grab attention – The difference sparks interest to figure out why it does not fit.
  • Reveal gaps in knowledge – Students realize their existing ideas are incomplete or wrong.
  • Require deeper thinking – To resolve the discrepancy, students need to reconsider their assumptions.
  • Motivate learning – Students become curious to learn more in order to understand the situation.
  • Promote critical thinking – Analyzing the discrepancy strengthens evaluation skills.
  • Enhance understanding – By resolving the conflicting data, students build new connections.

So introducing discrepant elements encourages the kinds of thinking and questioning that lead to deeper learning. Students must reconsider their beliefs, fill knowledge gaps, and develop more complex understanding.

Discrepant Elements in Science Education

Science teachers often use discrepant events and questions to challenge misconceptions students may have about how the world works. Here are some examples:

Discrepant Events

  • Mixing baking soda and vinegar produces a fizzing reaction, not an explosion as students might expect. This reveals gaps in understanding chemical reactions.
  • A candle continues burning when placed inside a jar and then the jar is sealed shut. Students expect the flame to go out once the oxygen is used up. Their understanding of combustion and air pressure is changed by this observation.
  • When an object such as a tennis ball is dropped into a beaker of water, the water level decreases instead of overflowing the top. This challenges the assumption that the water will rise.

Discrepant Questions

  • Which is heavier – 1000 pounds of rocks or 1000 pounds of feathers? The equality conflicts with the belief that rocks are always heavier.
  • Does a metal paperclip sink faster through vegetable oil or water? The slower sinking rate in oil is unexpected.
  • Will an inflated balloon shrink if placed in the freezer? It seems like getting colder should make gases smaller.

All these examples of discrepant elements conflict with what students think will happen. To resolve the discrepancy, the learners must re-evaluate their beliefs and improve their mental models of how science works.

Using Discrepant Elements in Teaching

Here are some tips for effectively using discrepant elements as a teaching technique:

  • Clearly point out the discrepancy and conflict with existing ideas.
  • Have students make predictions before revealing the discrepant information.
  • Give students time to think through the discrepancy and come up with explanations.
  • Encourage discussion and debate around interpreting the conflicting data.
  • Require evidence-based reasoning to resolve the discrepancy.
  • Provide ways to test explanations generated by the students.
  • Ensure students draw clear connections between the new information and revised thinking.
  • Close by emphasizing how the learning resolves the discrepancy.

With this approach, discrepant elements become a pathway to greater understanding rather than just a puzzle. The technique engages students in authentic, meaningful learning.

Discrepant Questioning in Psychology

In psychology, discrepant questioning is often used to change strongly held thoughts, beliefs, or biases that people hold. Some examples:

  • Presenting examples that contradict stereotypes about certain groups. This discrepancy between the examples and the stereotype leads to deeper thinking.
  • Describing studies that show cognitive biases like confirmation bias affect all people, not just others as individuals tend to believe. The discrepancy between believing oneself objective and evidence that all people are affected by bias leads to reflection.
  • Exposing people to fake news articles that align with their viewpoint and then revealing they were invented. This discrepancy provokes greater consideration of how misinformation spreads.
  • Discussing logical fallacies and then having people identify fallacies in their own reasoning. The inconsistency between believing oneself rational and the presence of fallacies encourages metacognition.

Key aspects of effective discrepant questioning in psychology include:

  • Targeting specific cognitive biases, stereotypes, or problematic patterns of thinking.
  • Framing questions non-judgmentally, to avoid defensiveness.
  • Providing counter-examples that create discrepancy with existing biased thinking.
  • Following up discrepancies with guidance on more accurate or flexible thinking.
  • Motivating reflection on why and how thinking might need to change.

Discrepant Elements in Problem Solving

Discrepant elements can also be useful in problem-solving contexts. Differences between expected and actual outcomes can reveal potential issues.

Here are some examples:

  • In a manufacturing plant, the daily widget output is far lower than the projection. This discrepancy signals a problem in the production process.
  • For a business, online ad clicks lead to fewer sales than past data indicates. The discrepancy highlights a change in ad effectiveness.
  • In an experiment, the results obtained do not match past findings. This discrepancy indicates errors in the procedure or new factors influencing the outcomes.
  • In troubleshooting a technical problem, the device behavior is inconsistent with the troubleshooting steps taken. The discrepancy points to incomplete diagnosis of the issue.
  • For a medical condition, the symptoms do not clearly match the initial diagnosis. This discrepancy warrants revisiting other potential diagnoses.

Noticing these discrepant elements pushes evaluating the root cause and finding a solution. By spurring deeper analysis, discrepancies can lead to breakthroughs and innovations.

Discrepant Data in Research

In scientific research, discrepant data refers to findings that conflict with expected results. Some examples:

  • A clinical trial of a drug produces side effects not seen in earlier studies. The discrepancy indicates potential issues with the drug.
  • An experiment to replicate previous findings gives different results. This discrepancy suggests errors, bias, or limitations of the original study.
  • Survey data contains anomalies that skew overall results. The outlying responses should be analyzed as discrepant data.
  • Observations reveal stellar phenomena that current astrophysics models cannot explain. The discrepancies point to gaps in theoretical understanding.
  • Testing of a psychological intervention worked well in one population but not others. The discrepancy implies cultural factors influence efficacy.

Discrepant data is informative rather than problematic for researchers. By spurring closer examination of methods, assumptions, and explanatory models, discrepancies drive knowledge advancement.

Properly handling discrepant data includes:

  • Looking for possible researchers bias, limitations, errors, and assumptions that need revising.
  • Comparing new data with previous data to identify key differences.
  • Evaluating external or confounding variables that could account for discrepancies.
  • Determining if discrepancies indicate outliers versus need to revise hypotheses.
  • Using discrepant data to refine theories, methods, and future research directions.

In Conclusion

A discrepant element refers to something that does not match the pattern – an inconsistency within a set or system. Discrepancies reveal gaps in knowledge and spur deeper thinking to resolve the conflict. This makes discrepant elements powerful tools for learning. Teachers, researchers, and problem-solvers all leverage discrepancies to encourage re-evaluation of current ideas. By promoting critical thinking and curiosity, discrepant elements can lead to new discoveries, breakthroughs, and growth

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