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 events at Robbers Cave mimicked the kinds of conflict that plague people all over the world.
The simplest explanation for this conflict is competition. Assign strangers to groups, throw the groups into competition, stir the pot, and soon there is conflict. There is a lot of evidence that when people compete for scarce resources e. For example, in times of high unemployment there may be high levels of racism among white people who believe that black people or asylum seekers have taken their jobs.
The study was a field experiment which means it has high ecological validity.
However, the Robbers Cave study has been criticized on a number of issues. For example, the two groups of boys in the study were artificial, as was the competition, and did not necessarily reflect real life. For example, middle class boys randomly assigned into two separate groups is not rival inner city gangs, or rival football supporters. Ethical issues must also be considered. The participants were deceived, as they did not know the true aim of the study. For example, to create one such goal the researchers staged a breakdown in the camp's water supply. In response to this crisis, the boys temporarily forgot their differences and worked cooperatively to explore the mile-long water line and find the break.
With each such cooperative adventure, hostilities between the groups abated, and by the end of a series of such adventures the boys were arranging many friendly cross-group interactions on their own initiative. Sherif's focus in this experiment was on ways to reduce intergroup hostility, but my focus here is on his method for creating the hostility, something not generally discussed in the textbooks. His procedure was remarkably simple. In phase two he invited the two groups of boys to compete with one another in a tournament involving a series of competitive games--including several games of baseball, touch football, and tug of war--all refereed by the camp staff.
The members of the winning team would receive prizes, such as pocketknives, that were much valued by the boys. Formal sports conducted for prizes--that was how Sherif and is colleagues generated animosity between the groups. It apparently worked like a charm , not just in this experiment, but also in others that Sherif and his colleagues had conducted earlier. As the series of games progressed, the two groups became increasingly antagonistic.
Initial good sportsmanship gave way gradually to name-calling, harassment, accusations of cheating, and cheating in retaliation. As the hostilities mounted, they spread to camp life outside of the games as well as in the games. Even though the boys all came from the same background white, Protestant, middle class and had been divided into groups by a purely random procedure, they began to think of the boys in the other group as very different from themselves--as dirty cheaters who needed to be taught a lesson.
Serious fistfights broke out on several occasions. Raids were conducted on the cabin of the opposing group. Some boys carried socks with stones in them, to use as weapons "if necessary. Many of the boys declared a desire not to eat meals in the same mess hall with the other group; and joint meals, when held, became battlegrounds where boys hurled insults and sometimes food at members of the other group. What at first was a peaceful camping experience turned gradually into something verging on intertribal warfare, all created by a series of formal sporting events.
Much of boys' play involves mock battles. In some cases the battles lie purely in the realm of fantasy. The boys collaboratively create the battle scenes, decide who will play which parts, and, as they go along, decide who is wounded, or dies, or is resurrected. Some people, who don't understand boys' play, mistake such play for violence and try to stop it, especially when it is acted out in a vigorous, rough-and-tumble manner.
But it isn't violence; it's play. We should think of those players not as warriors but as junior improvisational Shakespeares. They are using their imaginations to create and stage dramatic, emotion-inspiring stories.
Play of this sort is non-competitive as well as nonviolent. No score is kept; nobody wins or loses; all are just acting out parts. There are also no fixed teams in play of this sort. If the play involves pretend armies, the players arrange the armies differently for each bout of play. Such play does not create enemies; rather, it cements friendships.
A step removed from such fantasy battles is the informal play of team games such as baseball, soccer, and basketball--games that are referred to as "sports" when played formally. These games, too, can be thought of as mock battles. There are two teams armies , who invade one another's territory, defend their own territory from invaders, and strive to conquer one another, all ritualized by the rules of the game.
By "informal" play of these games, I mean that the games are organized entirely by the players and have no obvious consequences outside of the game context. There are no trophies or prizes, no official records of victories or losses kept from one game to the next, no fans who praise winners or disparage losers. These games may be classed as "competitive," but they are really, at most, only pseudo-competitive.
A score may be kept, and the players may cheer happily each time their team scores, but, in the end, nobody cares who won. The "losers" go home just as happy as the "winners. I wrote about the valuable lessons learned in play of this sort in my post of Nov. If the boys in Sherif's experiments had played informal games of baseball, touch football, and tug of war, rather than formal ones, I doubt that hostilities would have resulted.
Not even a partial coherent account could be obtained. These ratings were included to yield data relevant to our hypothesis concerning the nature of group stereotypes in the study and those of [p. The Social Psychology of Prejudice. The other half first heard about him as an example of how unethical social psychologists could be. According to Campbell, hedonistic assumptions do not adequately explain intergroup relations. Realistic conflict theory initialized RCT , also known as realistic group conflict theory initialized RGCT ,   is a social psychological model of intergroup conflict.
With no prizes or acknowledgments of victories and losses from outside authorities, the players would have focused more on having fun and less on winning. With no adult referee, the players would have had to cooperate to establish the ground rules for each game and judge consensually when rules had or had not been broken. They would have had to argue out and negotiate their differences. Cheating and name calling, if they went too far, would destroy the fun and end the game.
Players who weren't having fun would quit, so the only way to keep the game going would be to play in ways designed to ensure that everyone had fun. Boys everywhere know how to do that. In fact, it is reasonable to suppose that such informal games, if they occurred, would have brought the two groups of boys closer together because of the cooperation required, much like searching for the break in the water line. Fantasy battles and informal sports are pure play, and pure play creates friendships, not enemies. Formal sports are not pure play, and therefore they have the capacity, under some conditions, to create enemies.
Formal sports lie outside of the realm of pure play because they are controlled by officials who are not themselves players and because they have clear out-of-game consequences, in such forms as prizes or praise for victory.
See Nov. In formal sports it is not as clear as it is in informal sports that the battle is merely a pretend battle. Formal sports occupy a space somewhere between play and reality, and, depending on a wide array of factors, a formal game can shift more toward one than the other. When the balance shifts too far toward reality, a defeat is a real defeat, not a pretend one, and those defeated may begin to perceive the other team as real enemies. Sherif and his colleagues apparently found a formula for setting up formal sports in a manner that quickly moved from play to real battles.
I plan to continue this topic in my next post, next week, with an examination of some more recent research studies having to do with the effects of competitive team sports on the moral values and behaviors of the participants. The effects appear to depend very much on whether the players are led to focus primarily on winning or primarily on playful enjoyment and on development of their own skills. Intergroup conflict and cooperation: The Robbers Cave experiment. Norman: University of Oklahoma Book Exchange.
If this experiment had been done at a girl's camp, how would it be different? What is the relationship between organized sports and sexism, and between organized sports, enforced masculinity and homophobia? I am reminded of a male chauvenist high school English teacher I had years ago. The book under discussion was Lord of the Flies. He was quite certain that the book could not have been written about girls, and that only boys would revert so quickly to an "uncivilised" way of life.
Intergroup Conflict and Cooperation: The Robbers Cave Experiment. Muzafer Sherif, O. J. Harvey, B. Jack White, William R. Hood, Carolyn W. Sherif. The Robbers Cave Experiment: Intergroup Conflict and Cooperation. [Orig. pub. as Intergroup Conflict and Group Relations] [Muzafer Sherif, O. J. Harvey.
I'm glad you brought up these gender issues. Emily, I would have to agree with your English teacher; I don't think "Lord of the Flies" could have been written about girls. Girls certainly compete; a case can be made that they are as competitive as boys some would say more so ; but they are far far less likely to compete violently. This is true in every culture that has been studied; and the same sex difference occurs in almost all other mammals as well.
I know of a couple of interesting qualitative studies of girls' competition in the context of play. If you are interested I could track down the references. Or do you begin with a skewed account of a skewed account by some psychologists intending to prove the very point you are trying to prove, while ignoring some very interesting details about the experiment, regarding some of the original results of the two or three attempts which were not included in the published findings?
For example, in your honest opinion, were there not other, more forceful means to inspire antagonism which youy have not mentioned, which had a greater impact than the mere introduction of competitive sport? In the original experiment, wasn't it rather hard to get the boys to be antagonistic to each other? In the second running of the experiment, didn't the boys turn on the psychologists, rather than each other? I think this was the case. I am interested to read that competitive games were also played within each group, without seeming to inspire the animosity within each group, that you are so eager to link with sport.
Rather, sport seems to have been instrumental in bonding within the groups. So it must have been something extra in addition to the competitive sport, which was instrumental in inspiring antagonism. I would say that instrumental something was the experimenters' vested interest in proving the point they had set out to prove- There were not two groups, but three: Sherif et al formed the third and most powerful group among them.
And I would say that the main cause of the animosity was the deliberate conflict over territory, caused by this third group. This seems obvious in the deliberate introduction of group identities, the naming of territories etc:. The immediate reaction was to "run them off" and "challenge them. I would like suggest the idea that it was the deliberate delaying of healing and healthy competitive sport between the two weaker groups was a major cause of the antagonism, rather than the sport itself.
Had they been allowed to play competitive sports when they had originally requested it, and had they not been stirred up beforehand by artificial means, it is my opinion that organised sport and healthy competition would have worked to create co-operation. Steve, thanks for your comments here. It's good to be skeptical. You may know more about Sherif's earlier studies than I do; I only read the final report, including the comments within it about the earlier work. Certainly, I agree that Sherif didn't create the warlike situation just by proposing competitive games.
That was implicit in my noting that the games came in phase 2, after phase 1. Phase 1 was essential; Sherif said it was, and I agree. In Phase 1 the two groups developed separate identities perhaps including, as you suggest, separate territories. The strong sense of group identity was an essential precondition.
The games within each group, which you refer to, wouldn't have had the same effect, because there the conditions were very different. They weren't structured into a formal tournament for valued prizes; they weren't between pre-established groups with separate identities; etc.
Sherif himself was not studying sports; he was studying effects of competition and cooperation on intergroup hostility. He was especially interested in procedures for reducing hostility. It's interesting to me that, apparently through a series of trials and errors, he hit upon the use of competitive sports--combined with the other things he did--as an effective means to establish the hostilities. Unless Sherif is just lying in his report, the hostilities really blossomed within the context of the games.
Let me repeat, as I've said in previous posts, I'm not necessarily against organized sports. I greatly enjoyed playing varsity high school sports, and I see many kids enjoying them today. What I am against, where it occurs, is the great emphasis on winning. Depending on the degree of that emphasis, and on other conditions having to do with how the games are set up, sports can lead to hostile actions. The more cooperation is required between the two teams, the less likely it is that the games will create hostility.
In informal games there is necessarily lots of cooperation. In formal games, there is less cooperation between the teams, because the authorities set the game up for you so you don't have to cooperate with the other team to do so. In that case you are cooperating primarily with the authorities, not with the other team. If you are only against excessive emphasis on winning in competitive sports, why is your post suggestive that "morally questionable lessons" can be learnt from all formal sports, rather than showing that the real questionable lessons are, as you elaborate, from excessive "emphasis on winning"?
Sherif et al. Schisms, discontent with leadership, bullying and victimisation are all recorded within the teambuilding phase of the Robber's Cave experiment, although it is not the purpose of the experiment to show this, so these incidents are largely ignored. Had Sherif focused on these, and devised means to create hostilities by mismanaging co-operative activities, then perhaps we could be debating the morally questionable lessons of "teamwork"?
Both competition and teamwork can be mismanaged, deliberately or otherwise. An emphasis on a structure without competition is surely as detrimental as an an emphasis on a structure where winning is everything? Interesting also to note that the two groups in the Sherif experiment were brought together as a result of competition.
Albeit that competition was against an abstract opponent, "the vandals", invented by the psychologist group. Any comments on this morally valuable lesson to be learnt from competitive sports? Steve, the example you give is no different from the search for the break in the water line. It created a superordinate goal, which caused the previously competing groups to cooperate with one another. Sherif could even have accomplished the same thing by arranging a tournament between the Robbers Cave camp Eagles and Rattlers combined and another camp.
In that case the two former enemy teams at Robbers Cave would become one team, so they would cooperate. But now there would be a new outgroup, to whom hostilities may be directed--the other camp. This is like the old idea that wars among nations would end if we were invaded by aliens from outer space--a new enemy to unite against. There's a big difference between "competition" against an "abstract opponent" and a flesh-and-blood opponent.
Both create cooperation in the ingroup, but the latter creates a new outgroup to potentially hate while the former does not. If you are only against excessive emphasis on winning in competitive sports, why are your posts suggestive that formal sport per se is morally questionable? Do you agree with my suggestion that Sherif et al. Do you believe, like I do, that an emphasis on a structure without competition is as detrimental as an an emphasis on a structure where winning is everything?
In your comment to Steve, you said you're in favor of formal sports, just not a strong emphasis on winning. You've given examples in the past of how the emphasis that coaches and parents put on winning greatly diminish the enjoyment children feel from playing sports. Trying to get hired is one such example. Working in a sales role is another. Not winning in these cases has direct economic impact on the individual. I won't try to claim that everyone needs to get some win-at-all-costs sporting experience under their belt during their childhood. But I do believe that anyone considering going into sales or the military needs to figure out beforehand whether or not they are temperamentally suited to such occupations.
And the simplest way I can think of to figure that out is through playing organized sports in a highly competitive environment. While hyper-competitive sports aren't necessary or ideal for everyone, I consider them critical experiences for some people. I tend to think that your comment that competitive sports are a "critical experience" in preparation for joining the military serves to reinforce what Peter is saying.