How to Stop Hostile Raids

By Celia Coates

Here’s the sentence that caught my attention while I was reading an account of research done decades ago:
“There were raids on the other’s cabin, name-calling, fights, and other hostile behavior.”
It sounded like the 2016 Presidential season although the study involved 22 eleven-year-old boys and our national politics involves thousands and thousands of men and women.

Muzafer Sherif, a founder of social psychology, was born in Turkey in 1906 and became a professor at the University of Oklahoma during the 1950’s. He was interested in human behavior, especially in the competition or cooperation that can take place between groups of people. His research was reported in INTERGROUP CONFLICT AND COOPERATION which was published in 1954.

Sherif created two groups of psychologically normal eleven-year old boys and each group, unaware of the other, was given a cabin in a summer camp near the Robbers Cave State Park in Oklahoma. In the first stage, camaraderie and group cohesiveness were developed in both cabins. After alliances were formed among the boys and they had a strong sense of being a group, the two separate groups were introduced to each other. Then, inter-cabin competitions were set up with prizes and trophies awarded to the winners.

Sherif had predicted that this would create strong rivalry, hostility, and prejudice. This is exactly what happened,
“Boys in each group saw the boys in the other group as inferior.”
Then came the full result, the sentence that had caught my attention,
“There were raids on the other’s cabin, name-calling, fights, and other hostile behavior.”

Sherif’s research did not stop there. He took the study to a third stage, looking for a way to undo the hostile behavior and to end the conflict. Here, for me, is the most important lesson from this whole social experiment. Sherif finally found that if he arranged for the two groups to work together,
“… on a project that was larger than either group could do by itself, such as repairing the camp’s water supply … (t)he collaboration not only reduced intergroup conflict but established a close bond that superseded the prior in-groups”.

Perhaps it’s time for us to “repair the water supply” nationally and internationally. We live in a world where there are more than enough large projects that would require concerted, cooperative multi-group action.

Although it wasn’t described in the account of the research that I read, I assume that the two groups of boys were no longer receiving the trophies that had led to hostile rivalry before they were given the large task that required cooperation. This is also what’s necessary around the world now: highly desired prizes are given to supposed “winners” and many of them believe that “non-winners” are inferior or undeserving. In this country the trophies – power, money, and status – are handed primarily to a tiny group, the 1% who run the unfairly structured financial and political systems. In other countries there are various ways that dictators, rulers, and military leaders gain and keep wealth and power.

In 2016, one way to look at the election results is that the non-winners fought back. They chose a candidate who promised to upset the status quo, the unfairly structured system they believed had diminished their lives. And certainly many months of prejudice and name calling and hostile behavior followed.

We need to understand now that the healthy survival of our democracy, and of our world, depends on finding a way to work together. That‘s the reason posts about sharing and humanity’s common goals appear so often in WINN.

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These quotes are from the report on Sherif’s research found in THE PSYCHOLOGY BOOK: From Shamanism to Cutting Edge Neuroscience, 250 Milestones in the History of Psychology, Wade Pickren, with a foreword by Philip G. Zimbardo, Sterling, 2014.

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. trudy summers says:

    Important research and so timely for today.

  2. Gilah Yelin Hirsch says:

    Love from New Zealand! Gilah >

  3. Gilah Yelin Hirsch says:

    Dear Celia,

    The vision of Ayers Rock (central Australia) at sunrise, sacred place to the world’s oldest surviving culture gave me a profound sense of potential despite the miseries we humans create… The image remains with me, hopefully forever.


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