Have you ever watched the blockbuster movie called „Hunger Games“? The movie is about twelve kids fighting for their lives under the banner of their corresponding city districts. The kids are dependant on limited resources like weapons and food, forced to work with each other, but ultimately only concerned with their survival. There was a certain social psychologist in the early 1950s who was bored with laboratory work in university departments and instead opted for an experiment on humans, in real social settings.
His name was Muzafer Sherif, and he wanted to prove how people separated into groups, with limited resources, will eventually similarly turn against each other to that of the movie we just described. Well, not really like in the movie, but the Robber's Cave experiment does share some similarities with the dystopian „Hunger Games“ and classic novels such as „Lord Of The Flies.“ Muzafer Sherif was focused on group dynamics and how individuals come together and form opposing units if the specific prerequisites are met.
What Was The Purpose Of The Robber's Cave Experiment?
The purpose of the experiment was to prove the theory of realistic conflict, which states that under certain circumstances of limited resources, the conflict will happen between the groups engaged. The Robber's Cave experiment happened in Robber's Cave State Park in Oklahoma. The case subjects that Muzafer Sherif chose were only white middle-class boys, separated into two groups. In the beginning stages, each group was unaware of the existence of the other. As days passed, these groups of previously never before met participants developed social habits and routines, learning to cooperate for the common goals. They even gave names to their groups.
The first one was called The Rattlers, and the second one was called The Eagles. Sherif eventually orchestrated several competitive games for the two groups to produce tension among their members. Initially, the antagonism between the groups was expressed mostly through verbal interactions. But, as the competition stage grew more intense, so did the ways of expression, resulting in destroying each other's property, stealing, and even physical confrontations. Sherif's goal was to prove how these conflicts can result in various discriminations, prejudices, and stereotyping among opposing groups.
What Does The Experiment Tell Us About The World We Live In?
Certain events of this experiment mirror the various conflicts we can witness in the real world. Competition plays a big part in the birth of the conflict between groups of people in a similar way that Sherif's experiment displayed, even though it was artificially constructed. Think about all the ways people behave when they „compete“ in the real world for various monetary resources and status power.
The fewer the jobs, the less the money, the smaller the opportunities, the more chance there is for conflict between people who compete for those same resources.
When people compete for resources that are only obtainable for one group, there is always a high chance for the other group to display aggressiveness and hostility. That was Sherif's original idea to prove, but we have to take into account that his experiment was also extremely biased and artificial, as well as ethically questionable. He only used people of a particular age group, ethnicity, and gender. Nevertheless, Sherif offered valuable insight into certain aspects of human psychology and social relations through his field experiment.
What are some of the main issues with Sherif's experiment?
The experiment was extremely biased and artificial, as well as ethically questionable. Muzafer Sherif only used people of a particular age group, ethnicity, and gender, which is not an ideal way to conduct an objective study.
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