Robbers Cave Experiment

24.03.2015 |

Episode #5 of the course “Brilliant Social Psychology Experiments”

Possibly the most well-known study in the field of social psychology is The Robbers Cave Experiment conducted by the father of modern-day social psychology, Dr. Muzafer Sherif. This research is one of the most prominent examples of RCT (randomized controlled trial). The experiment happened at a boys camp in Robbers Cave State Park and focused on exhibitions of group behavior. Twenty-two boys, aged 11 and 12, were observed by researchers acting as camp counselors. None of the boys had ever met each other before but came from similar backgrounds.

The research was done in three parts over two weeks: ingroup formation, friction, and integration. Initially when the boys arrived, they were split into two similar groups. In the friction phase, the boys were set up to compete while playing organized camp sports, and the winners received expensive gifts. As a result, each group behaved negatively to the other group. In the integration stage, the researchers used tasks related to teamwork and cooperation to minimize group contention.

The findings of Dr. Sherif’s experiment were extensive. First, he found that group differences were not the cause of intergroup conflict. The psychologist had proved through creating similar interacting groups that conflicts still existed. Further, Dr. Sherif found that contention surfaced when the groups had to compete for winnings and prizes since there could only be one winner. Additionally, he found that just making contact with a rival group was not enough to help ease created tensions. Only by construction goals that each group could work toward together on could each group ease the conflict and create new, positive relationships.


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