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Robbers Cave experiment

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A field experiment on conflict and cooperation carried out by the US-based Turkish psychologist Muzafer Sherif (1906–88) and several colleagues in the summer of 1954 and published in books entitled The Robbers Cave Experiment: Intergroup Conflict and Cooperation (1961) and In Common Predicament: Social Psychology of Intergroup Conflict and Cooperation (1966). Two groups of white, middle-class eleven-year-old boys, arbitrarily named Rattlers and Eagles by the experimenters and each initially unaware of the other group's existence, spent the first week of a three-week summer holiday hiking, swimming, boating, and camping. After they had established separate group identities, they were brought together to compete at football, treasure hunts, tug-of-war, and other events, the winners receiving trophies and medals. Almost immediately, Rattlers and Eagles became hostile and antagonistic towards each other: flags were burned, cabins ransacked, and a food fight escalated into a near-riot in the mess hall. The experimenters restored peace by contriving situations in which members of the two groups had to cooperate to achieve superordinate goals. For example, the camp truck was made to break down at a spot where members of both groups were needed to pull it up a steep hill. At the end of the third week, the two groups were so friendly that they chose to travel home on the same bus. See also realistic group conflict theory, social identity theory. Compare jigsaw classroom. [Named after Robbers Cave State Park in Oklahoma, where the experiment took place]

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