Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Robbers Cave Experiment (1954)

Social Identity Theory.

Definitionis the portion of an individual's self-concept derived from perceived membership in a relevant social group.

Laymen: We like people we think are apart of our group, and dislike people we see as 'others.'

"We've got to have rules and obey them. After all, we are not savages. We're English, and the English are the best at everything." -Lord of the Flies, Ch 2

More than 50 years ago, an experimenter, Dr. Sherif, set out to how the sociology of groups caused violence and if it could resolved. His experiment came to be known as 'The Robbers Cave Experiment,' due to the location of his study, which was near Robbers Cave, OK. 

22, 11 year old boys were split into two groups, randomly*. The two groups did not meet each other, and where taken to the camp via buses, in their separate groups. Upon arriving at the camp, the two groups were to begin activities that would cultivate inner group cohesion. That is to say, bonding. These bonding actives lasted 5 days, and was known as Phase 1.

Effects of Phase 1: 
  1. Self-imposed social hierarchy.  
  2. Became Territorial
  3. The two groups wanted to compete against each other.
  4. Labeled themselves; The Rattlers and The Eagles.

Once Phase 1 was complete, the researchers began Phase 2, which would last 4-6 days. In this phase, researchers set out to cause friction between the two groups. This was done by competitive games. The winning group would be given a trophy and pocket-knives (It was the 50's). 

Effects of Phase 2: 
  1. Groups become hostile (Food fights, name calling, one fist fight.)
  2. The Rattlers took on the Alpha role and was more hostile to the The Eagles than vise-versa
The focus of this experiment rested in the results of Phase 3, which was the intent to bring these two hostile groups together by exposing them to problems which required the collective's response and that could not be achieved by a single team. These problems involved a camp water shortage, acquiring a movie for the entire camp, and a few others. The result was, given problems that affected all, the two groups came together and by the end of the experiment were social and friendly.


  1. There were actually 3 experiments and the first to failed.
  2. No third group was not accounted for--the experimenters.
  3. THERE WERE NO WOMEN. They make up half the world population, and their have been recent studies showing that women are not as prone this ego driven conflict. (sadly, I can't kind the article at the moment, but as soon as I do, I'll edit this.)
  4. One could argue all the points that make psychology a 'soft-science,' but thats an understood flaw coming into psychological study. 

Analysis: Nations, races, sexes, religions; all fall prey to Social Identity Theory. However, we are all humans. We all depend on the world, Sun, and ultimately the Universe for survival. And like the kids had to come together to obtain water, we too have world wide problems that require our collective response. These challenges will not be met until we can obtain a world identity.

  1. The youth will be exposed to the world in a way previous generations were not, this begins and ends with the internet. It must remain free.
  2. Science must be funded. Scientists care more about truth than group barriers. We fund science, we will integrate the world further.
  3. Diversity is not bad. However, we should seek integrations to the point that allows us to solve world-wide problems, but seldom further than that.

Source 1
Source 2
Source 3

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