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Muzafer Sherif, O J Harvey, Jack White, William Hood & Carolyn Wood Sherif 1954/1961
Updated: 15 January 2013
AIMS: Muzafer Sherif wanted to see if it was possible to instil prejudice between two very similar groups by using real life scenarios to develop group norms and values and then putting the 2 groups in competition with each other.
PROCEDURE (METHOD): In 1954 22 11-
The researchers acted as camp counsellors. A nominal fee was charged to parents for the camp; but they were asked not to visit on the pretext that it might make the boys homesick.
The research methods used were:-
Each group, initially unaware of the other’s presence, had their own cabin and were
independent, camping out, cooking, improving swimming places, carrying canoes over
rough terrain to water and playing various games. They were assigned activities that
held a common appeal for group members and that depended on the collective effort
of the group as a whole -
Each group soon developed a distinctive set of ideas and rules about how to behave.
In one group it became the norm to act tough, swear a lot and not complain about
small injuries. The other group swam in the nude and made any expression of homesickness
taboo. Each group was tasked with coming up with a name for itself -
After a week the groups were made aware of each other. The researchers observed that
The 2 groups wanted to play each other at baseball which enabled the researchers
to introduce a competition: a grand tournament comprising 10 sporting events, plus
cabin cleanliness awards and acting events. The boys were told that the best performing
group in the tournament would receive a trophy, 4-
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.
Even before the tournament began, the groups were insulting each other -
The researchers manipulated the points so they could control the competition.When
the Rattlers won a tug of war competition, the Eagles responded by burning their
flag, with the group's leader proclaiming: “You can tell those guys I did it ...
I'll fight 'em!” The Rattlers retaliated by raiding the Eagles camp (amid scuffles!)
and damaging their property -
With some ‘help’ from the researchers, the Eagles won -
Now nearly at the end of the second week, the 2 sides met for a fight. However, the researchers again intervened, forcing both sides to withdraw.
The researchers mow instigated a 2-
Other evidence of in-
The researchers now realised they needed to reduce hostility between the 2 groups
which they did by replacing the competitive goals with goals that could only be achieved
by members of the two groups co-
First the researchers tried simply letting the 2 groups interact on an equal footing
in the hope simply associating with each other would, over time, repair the breach.
Though outings were planned, movies to be watched together and meals served at the
same time, the Rattlers and the Eagles refused to associate. The closest they came
to interacting was throwing food and papers -
The researchers then arranged for the water supply to break down. (They turned off the valve and then placed 2 large boulders over it, blaming vandals for the problem.) First each group explored the 1.6 km pipeline separately; then they came together at the behest of the researchers and jointly located the source of the problem ( a clogged valve). When they restored the water supply, they cheered together. However, once the problem had been resolved, the behaviour degenerated again and that evening, another food fight erupted over dinner.
The next tactic was to tell the 2 groups that the camp could not afford to take them to see a film (‘Treasure Island’) most boys had high on their list of preferences. The two groups got together and worked out how they could get the money together jointly and see the film.
With each successive task, including preparing and pitching tents together, the antagonism showed signs of mellowing.
Finally the lorry due to transport their food on an outing to Cedar Lake some distance
away wouldn’t start (by arrangement of the researchers) -
FINDINGS (RESULTS): An in-
The table on the next page shows how ‘out-
(How well these ‘cooling down’ strategies worked was indicated that the boys chose to travel home on a single bus when offered the opportunity for the two groups to travel separately. When a stop was made for refreshments, one group used their last $5 prize money to buy malted milks for all the boys.)
CONCLUSIONS: Put into a group, the boys developed group identity with group norms, leadership and a status hierarchy.
Competition increased prejudice and discrimination, leading to clear inter-
The first time the Rattlers and the Eagles saw each other...
Rattlers vs Eagles in tug of war contest...
The morning after the flag-
Eagles raiding the Rattlers’ cabin!
Eagles and Rattlers working together to start the truck
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