The Pen is mightier than the sword, but the Pen must sometimes move the sword against corruption if the corrupt are not moved by the pen.. An idea without an implementer is useless. "The Rulers do not carry the sword in vain"Rom 13:4

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Sherif's Robbers Cave Experiment... the social psychology implications for group bonding and identity development.

In this now famous experiment aimed at observing group conflict and seeking ways to resolve it, Sharif, through Yale, did the following:  (please read this cut/pasted explanation of the experiment and then I'll raise an important question at the end.  A good presentation of all phases of the experiment is found here.

i) 2 groups of eleven 12 yr old boys from stable, 2 parent protestant backgrounds were taken to a boy scouts camp called 'robbers cave' State  park in Oklahoma.

ii) Niether of these 2 groups of boys knew about the other group for the first stage of the experiment, which involved various exercises that helped solidify group bonding and identity development.  The boys were randomly selected for each group.

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. During this first phase, the groups did not know of the other group's existence. 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.
iii) Sherif now arranged the Competition Stage where friction between the groups was to occur over the next 4-6 days. 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.g. baseball, tug-of-war etc.) were arranged with a trophy being awarded on the basis of accumulated team score. 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."
The Rattlers' reaction to the informal announcement of a series of contests was absolute confidence in their victory! 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 Eagles burned the Rattler's flag. Then the next day, the Rattler's ransacked The Eagle's cabin, overturned beds, and stole private property. 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. This experiment confirmed Sherif's realistic conflict theory.
THE END of the Experiment.
Integration Phase - this phase involves bringing the two previously conflicting groups into cooperation through the attainment of superordinate goals.  The boys were told that 'someone' from outside had cut off the water to the camp, and they needed to find out who and get it fixed.  This (after failed  attempts to reintegrate the boys using counsellors,  life coaches and even an 'inspiring sermon' from a pastor about brotherly love.)
The 'outside threat' was the only issue which finally caused the two groups together in cooperation.
I think there is another level we can extract from this experiment, although the data is not really evident. If it was  run again, I would like to examine closely the group dynamics by which the sense of 'self' for each group occurred.
I suspect that the developing sense of identity would hinge on the personalities of opinion leaders in the groups. It would be fascinating to do a profile of those who turned out to be opinion leaders and influencers within each group, and see whether the sense of group identity was a reflection of those dominant personalities.  My view is that if there was a charismatic but violence prone opinion shaper type among them, that the group would tend to develop such attitudes towards others.   From such knowledge, we could then predict how society might change when the personalities of x y z 'prominent opinion leader/shaper' was such and such.  Perhaps a colorful example might be Mylie Cyrus as a shaper of teen opinion in her fans.  Based on the results, it would then be quite valid to curtail known behaviors that are demonstrably dangerous to our social health.
The other side though of that coin, would be that of selecting the appropriate 'arbiter' of what is dangerous and not. In this we are pretty much lost, because as the late  Prof  George Mosse of Wisconsin history dept said of the enlightenment, "It was presupposed on the idea that once people began using reason instead of the Church for guidance, everyone would think.... the same."  something that clearly did not happen, and never will.
Is this not suggestive of the need for an authority for our personal conduct that is higher than ourselves?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please make comments here. Vulgarity or namecalling will not survive the moderator. Reasoned argument alone will survive.