It is safe to say that wondering why we do the things we do has crossed the average person’s mind. That same question has been studied empirically by psychologists. Today we will look at psychology experiment called the Robbers Cave experiment.
The Robbers Cave Experiment
We sometimes wonder why we have conflicts between two different groups. It could be at home with family members taking sides, at work, in social groups, and even at church. The possibilities are endless. According to “psychologist Muzafer Sherif, inter-group conflicts tend to arise from competition for resources, stereotypes, and prejudices.” He calls his work, Realistic Conflict Theory. He constructed a somewhat controversial experiment.
How did Muzafer Sherif conduct his experiment? The design was to create two groups of preteens at a boys camp in Robbers Cave Park in Oklahoma and to see how they work with and against each other. During the first week of the experiment the boys were interacting with each other. At first, the boys did not know there was to be a second group. However, the boys were separated into two groups by the second week. They then were encouraged to compete with the other group in games such as tug-of-war. As pretty much expected, the boys favorited the members of the group they were assigned to, even though, they had become friendly with all the boys in the first week. The competition disrupted the camaraderie and made the boys fierce competitors. In the final phase the groups were given tasks that required cooperation between the two groups and that helped the boys to bond once again with the other group.
Sherif, concluded that competition will occur among groups, when the competition is for limited resources. The boys had gotten very aggressive towards each other and the researchers had to separate them because of this hostility and aggression. They were burning each other flags and stealing food from the other team and so on.
The critical evaluation of the experiment
How did this experiment relate to real life situations? Researchers believe this sort of thing occurs all over the world among different groups in society. This theory purports that competition for limited resources, such as land, political status, jobs, food and so on lead to fierce competition and intense rivalry. Just look at the fights that sometimes erupt in a department store on Black Friday to see the theory in a real life situation.
There has been some criticism against this experiment as well. Even though the experiment with the boys worked to test the hypothesis, only middle class boys were used in the experiment. We do not see clashes between girls or different socioeconomic groups. The participants did not know they were part of an experiment and the experiment did not involve adults.