The Robber’s Cave Experiment conducted by Muzafer Sherif (1961) focused on how competition between individuals can create prejudice and intergroup conflict. The experiment took place at Robber’s Cave State Park, Oklahoma involving two groups of eleven to twelve year old boys. All the boys were of similar backgrounds (white, middle-class) and complete strangers to one another. They were randomly assigned to a group and knew nothing about the other group before the first phase. The members of each group were encouraged to bond with each other and each group began establishing their own group name and culture. The second phase of the experiment was the competition between the two groups. The “Eagles” and “Rattlers” competed aggressively against each other in many activities, such as football, tug-o-war, and treasure hunt. The winning team would be able to get a trophy and there were prizes for the individual members of the winning team, while the losing team would receive nothing. The rivalry became so aggressive that the groups burned each others’ flags, cabins were ransacked, and other hostile things were done. In the end, the experimenters had to physically separate the groups.
Does this experiment mimic real life?
Is competition the only reason for group conflict?