By Saul McLeod , published Muzafer Sherif is a famous social psychologist important to the psychological understanding of groups and its members. His main contribution is known as Realistic Conflict Theory, and accounts for group conflict, negative prejudices, and stereotypes as being the result of competition between groups for desired resources. This theory is supported by evidence from a famous study investigating group conflict: The Robbers Cave Sherif, , , The twenty-two boys in the study were unknown to each other and all from white middle-class backgrounds. They all shared a Protestant, two-parent background. None of the boys knew each other prior to the study.
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By Saul McLeod , published Muzafer Sherif is a famous social psychologist important to the psychological understanding of groups and its members. His main contribution is known as Realistic Conflict Theory, and accounts for group conflict, negative prejudices, and stereotypes as being the result of competition between groups for desired resources.
This theory is supported by evidence from a famous study investigating group conflict: The Robbers Cave Sherif, , , The twenty-two boys in the study were unknown to each other and all from white middle-class backgrounds. They all shared a Protestant, two-parent background. None of the boys knew each other prior to the study. They were then, as individual groups, picked up by bus on successive days in the summer of and transported to a acre Boy Scouts of America camp in the Robbers Cave State Park in Oklahoma.
At the camp the groups were kept separate from each other and were encouraged to bond as two individual groups through the pursuit of common goals that required co-operative discussion, planning and execution. The boys developed an attachment to their groups throughout the first week of the camp, quickly establishing their own cultures and group norms, by doing various activities together like hiking, swimming, etc.
The boys chose names for their groups, The Eagles and The Rattlers, and stenciled them onto shirts and flags. In this phase it was intended to bring the two groups into competition with each other in conditions that would create frustration between them. A series of competitive activities e. There were also individual prizes for the winning group such as a medal and a multi-bladed pocket knife with no consolation prizes being given to the "losers.
They spent the day talking about the contests and making improvements on the ball field, which they took over as their own to such an extent that they spoke of putting a "Keep Off" sign there! They ended up putting their Rattler flag on the pitch. At this time, several Rattlers made threatening remarks about what they would do if anybody from The Eagles bothered their flag.
Situations were also devised whereby one group gained at the expense of the other. For example, one group was delayed getting to a picnic and when they arrived the other group had eaten their food. At first, this prejudice was only verbally expressed, such as taunting or name-calling. As the competition wore on, this expression took a more direct route.
The groups became so aggressive with each other that the researchers had to physically separate them. During the subsequent two-day cooling off period, the boys listed features of the two groups. The boys tended to characterize their own in-group in very favorable terms, and the other out-group in very unfavorable terms.
Keep in mind that the participants in this study were well-adjusted boys, not street gang members. This study clearly shows that conflict between groups can trigger prejudice attitudes and discriminatory behavior. Critical Evaluation The events at Robbers Cave mimicked the kinds of conflict that plague people all over the world. The simplest explanation for this conflict is competition.
Assign strangers to groups, throw the groups into competition, stir the pot, and soon there is conflict. There is a lot of evidence that when people compete for scarce resources e. For example, in times of high unemployment there may be high levels of racism among white people who believe that black people or asylum seekers have taken their jobs. The study was a field experiment which means it has high ecological validity. However, the Robbers Cave study has been criticized on a number of issues.
For example, the two groups of boys in the study were artificial, as was the competition, and did not necessarily reflect real life.
For example, middle class boys randomly assigned into two separate groups is not rival inner city gangs, or rival football supporters.
Ethical issues must also be considered. The participants were deceived, as they did not know the true aim of the study.
Also, participants were not protected from physical and psychological harm. Nor should the results be generalized to real life because the research used only 12 year old white middle class boys and excluded, for example, girls and adults. The sample was biased. Experimental study of positive and negative intergroup attitudes between experimentally produced groups: robbers cave study. Sherif, M. Superordinate goals in the reduction of intergroup conflict.
American journal of Sociology, Intergroup conflict and cooperation: The Robbers Cave experiment Vol. How to reference this article: How to reference this article: McLeod, S.
Robbers cave. Simply Psychology.
The Group Formation and Bonding Phase of the Experiment The boys, all from similar backgrounds, were randomly assigned to one of two different groups. During the first week of the experiment, the two groups were kept separate and neither had any inkling that the other group even existed. The boys in each group spent this time bond with one another by participating in activities like hiking and swimming. As the researchers predicted, each group established its own norms, hierarchy, and practices.
Intergroup Conflict and Cooperation: The Robbers Cave Experiment
Harvey, B. Jack White, William R. Hood, Carolyn W. Approach to Reducing Friction At this stage of the experiment, the main objective of our study could be undertaken, namely the reduction of intergroup friction. There are now two distinct groups in an unmistakable state of friction with one another. The groups exhibited in word and deed repeated hostility toward one another; they standardized unflattering attitudes and stereotypes toward one another.