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Wesleyan University Press
The Robbers Cave Experiment / Edition 1

The Robbers Cave Experiment / Edition 1


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780819561947
Publisher: Wesleyan University Press
Publication date: 02/01/1988
Edition description: 1st Wesleyan ed
Pages: 264
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

MUZAFER SHERIF was professor emeritus of sociology at Penn. O.J. HARVEY is professor of psychology at the University of Colorado where he has taught since 1958. B. JACK WHITE was professor of psychology at the University of Utah. William R. Hood was a social psychologist at the University of Oklahoma Medical School. CAROLYN W. SHERIF was professor of psychology at Penn State. DONALD T. CAMPBELL was University Professor of Social Relations and Psychology at Lehigh University, and the author of numerous articles and books including, with R.A. LeVine, Ethnocentrism: Theories of Conflict, Ethnic Attitudes and Group Behavior.

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Integrating Field Work and Laboratory in Small Group Research

The study of small groups has become one of the most flourishing areas of research. The influences responsible for the increased preoccupation with small groups in various social sciences and psychology spring both from developments within various academic disciplines and from agencies instituted for devising practical solutions for immediate application. Brief mention of influences contributing to the flourishing state of affairs in small group research will be helpful as orientation.

Theoretically and empirically, works of sociologists have historical priority in showing persistent concern with the topic of small groups (Faris 1953). Since the early 1920s sociology related to small groups has undergone definite research development, as represented by the works of men like Thrasher, Anderson, Clifford Shaw, Zorbaugh, Hiller, and Whyte. In the recurrent findings reported in this line of research, which was carried out over a period of a good many years, one cannot help finding crucial leads for a realistic approach to experimentation in this area.

Another major instigator of the extraordinary volume of small group research stems from the practical concerns of business and military agencies. A series of studies, initiated by Elton Mayo and his associates at the Harvard Business School in the late 1920s, has proliferated in various institutions, both academic and technological. Another impetus along this line came from the concern of military

This chapter was prepared for the special issue on Small Group Research of the American Sociological Review 19, no. 6 (December 1954). Grateful acknowledgment is made to the editors of the Review for permission to reproduce this paper here in substantially the same form.

agencies with establishing effective techniques for the assessment of leaders.

Yet another major influence in the development of small group studies comes from psychological research. Regardless of the theoretical treatment, the results of psychological experiments almost always showed differential effects on behavior when individuals undertook an activity in relation to other individuals or even in their presence, as can be ascertained readily by a glance at Murphy, Murphy, and Newcomb's Experimental Social Psychology. F. H. Allport's experiments, which started around 1915, illustrate this point. In the 1930s, it became increasingly evident that social behavior (cooperation-competition, ascendance-submission, etc.) could not be properly studied when the individual is considered in isolation. Psychological "trait" theories or personality typologies fell far short in explaining social relations. Therefore, when Moreno's sociometric technique for the study of interpersonal choices and reciprocities among individuals (i.e., role relations) appeared in the United States in the mid-thirties, it quickly found wide application. A few years later Kurt Lewin and his associates demonstrated the determination of individual behavior by the properties of group atmosphere. This line of experimentation was the basis of subsequent studies coming from the proponents of the Group Dynamics school. Some other major influences coming from psychology will be mentioned later.

Interdisciplinary Cooperation and the Concept of Levels

It becomes apparent from even a brief mention of the background that researchers from various disciplines contributed to make the study of small groups what it is today. As a consequence, there is a diversity of emphasis in formulating problems and hypotheses and diversity in the concepts used. This state of affairs has brought about considerable elbow-rubbing and interdisciplinary bickering among sociologists, psychologists, and anthropologists. This process and researchers' critical appraisal of each other's approaches have made the interdisciplinary approach a necessity for achieving a rounded picture.

Faced with the task of dealing with both psychological and sociocultural factors in human relations problems, psychologists have too often yielded to the temptation of improvising their own "sociologies" in terms of their preferred concepts. Sociologists, on the other hand, have sometimes engaged in psychological improvisations. While sociological or psychological improvisation at times proves necessary on the frontiers of a discipline, it is difficult to justify on topics for which a substantial body of research exists in sociology or in psychology, as the case may be.

On the whole, interdisciplinary cooperation has usually turned out to mean rallying psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists, and other social scientists to toss their theories and concepts into the ring. But mere juxtaposition of utterances from these disciplines in the same room or between the covers of the same book does not bring interdisciplinary cooperation. Nor is interdisciplinary integration possible by laying down segments from each discipline along the same line — one yard of psychology, one yard of sociology, then a foot each of history and economics.

The outlines of an interdisciplinary approach appear more clearly with the realization that psychological and sociological signify different levels of analysis. People studying human relations are approaching related, similar, or even the same problems at different levels of analysis, necessitating units and concepts appropriate for dealing with events on that level. If we are working on the psychological level, our unit of analysis is the individual; hence our treatment must be in terms of the individual's psychological functioning — in terms of concepts such as motives, judging, perceiving, learning, remembering, imagining, and so on. If we are working on a sociological or cultural level, our concepts are in such terms as social organization, institutions, value systems, language, kinship systems, art forms, and technology.

The concept of levels holds a fairly obvious but invaluable check on the validity of research findings. If it is valid, a generalization reached on a topic at one level of analysis is not contradicted and, in fact, gains support from valid generalizations reached at another level. For example, the psychologist's findings of differential behavior of an individual when participating in the activities of a group should be (and are) substantiated by findings on the sociological level, namely, that collective action in a group has properties peculiar to that group. Checking and cross-checking findings obtained at one level against those obtained on the same topic at another level will make interdisciplinary cooperation the integrative meeting ground that it should be.

During the last century in the social sciences, and more recently in psychology, the dependence of sub-units upon the setting or superordinate system of which they are parts has gained increased attention, especially in view of unrewarding attempts to account for the functioning system in an additive way. Understanding part processes is possible only through analysis of their relations within the functioning system, as well as by analysis of unique properties of the part process itself. Unless knowledge of the superordinate or larger functioning system is gained first, before tackling the part processes, there is the likelihood of unwarranted generalizations concerning the parts and misinterpretation of the true functional significance of the processes observed.

In this connection, an illustration from Malinowski (1922) is instructive. Malinowski describes the complex exchange system of the Argonauts of the Western Pacific called the Kula. The Argonauts themselves

have no knowledge of the total outline of any of their social structure. ... Not even the most intelligent native has any clear idea of the Kula as a big, organized social construction, still less of its sociological functions and implications. If you were to ask him what the Kula is, he would answer by giving a few details, most likely by giving his personal experiences and subjective views on the Kula ... Not even a partial coherent account could be obtained. For the integral picture does not exist in his mind; he is in it, and cannot see the whole from the outside.

This point can be illustrated in relation to small group studies. Since Lewin's experiments in the 1940s comparing lecture and group discussion methods in changing attitudes, various studies have shown that in the American setting, skillfully conducted group discussion in which members participate is more effective than lecture presentation of the same material. Results obtained in the American setting would suggest that the superiority of group discussion methods might be universal. That this is not the case is indicated by one of the studies in the UNESCO project in India (Murphy 1953). In an attempt to modify caste attitudes among college students in India using various methods, the greatest changes arose as a result of a lecture method using emotional appeals. The experimenter wrote, "Contrary to our original expectation and hypothesis, these young boys do not seem to be in a position to exploit fully the discussion technique, in bettering their social relationships. Does it indicate that our boys have got to be used to the democratic ways of discussion and at present prefer to be told what are the right attitudes rather than to be allowed to talk them out?" Within a social organization whose values clearly encourage dependence on authority and effectively discourage settling issues through give-and-take in small sub-units, particular dependencies may become so much a part of the individual's ego system that group discussion techniques would be less effective than methods more in harmony with the social organization in which they take place.

Such comparative results illustrate the value of starting first with due consideration of the sociocultural setting, with its organization and values, before making generalizations about small groups functioning as parts of that setting (Whyte, 1951; Arensberg 1951) because small groups are not closed systems, especially in highly complex and differentiated societies like the United States.

Facts obtained concerning the group setting are in terms of concepts and units at the social or cultural level of analysis. They will not give the step-by-step analysis of the particular interaction process; they will not be adequate for the task of dealing with interpersonal relations or the behavior of particular individual members. At this point, psychological concepts are needed for a detailed analysis of reciprocal relations, for handling motives, perceptions, judgments, and the like.

Experimental Steps Toward Integration

We devote the rest of the chapter to a summary of our prior attempts to pull together some relevant findings from sociology and psychology in the study of small groups. In these attempts the guiding considerations have been the following:

1. To extract some minimum generalizations from the sociological findings on small groups, on the one hand; on the other, to extract relevant principles from the work coming from the psychological laboratory.

2. To formulate problems and hypotheses suggesting relationships among the indications of the two sets of relevant findings from sociological and psychological research.

3. To test hypotheses thus derived with methods and techniques appropriate for the particular problem — experimental, observational, sociometric, questionnaire, or combinations thereof.

Let us start with the term small group itself. The term is coming to mean all things to all people. If the concept of small groups is considered at the outset, research on small groups will gain a great deal in the way of selection of focal problems for investigation and hence effective concentration of efforts.

Small group may mean simply a small number of individuals. If this is the criterion, any small number of individuals in a togetherness situation would be considered a small group. But a conception of small groups in terms of numbers alone ignores the properties of actual small groups that have made their study such a going concern today.

One of the objectives of concentrating on small group research should be to attain valid generalizations that can be applied, at least in their essentials, to any group and to the behavior of individual members. Accordingly, one of our first tasks was to extract from sociological work some minimum essential features of actual small groups. This task poses a methodological advantage in concentrating on informally organized groups, rather than formally organized groups in which the leader or head and other positions, with their respective responsibilities, are appointed by a higher authority, such as a commanding officer or board. In informally organized groups, group products and the particular individuals who occupy the various positions are determined to a much greater extent by the actual interaction of individuals. If care is taken at the beginning to refer to the general setting in which small groups form and function, their products and structure can be traced through longitudinal observation of the interaction process.

Based on an extensive survey of sociological findings, we abstracted the following minimum features in the rise and functioning of small groups:

1. Individuals share a common goal that fosters their interacting with one another.

2. The interaction process produces differential effects on individual behavior; that is, each individual's experience and behavior is affected in varying ways and degrees by the interaction process in the group.

3. If interaction continues, a group structure consisting of hierarchical status and role relationships is stabilized and is clearly delineated as an ingroup from other group structures.

4. A set of norms regulating relations and activities within the group and with nonmembers and outgroups is standardized.

Interaction is not made a separate item in these minimum features because interaction is the sine qua non of any kind of social relationship, whether interpersonal or group. Since human interaction takes place largely on a symbolic level, communication is here considered part and parcel of the interaction process.

When group structure is analyzed in terms of hierarchical status positions, the topic of power necessarily becomes an integral dimension of the hierarchy. Power relations are brought in as an afterthought only if this essential feature of group hierarchy is not made part of the conception of a group. Of course, power does in many cases stem from outside of the group, and in these cases the nature of established functional relations between groups in the larger structure has to be included in the picture.

Our fourth feature relates to the standardization of a set of norms. The term social norm is a sociological designation referring generically to all products of group interaction that regulate members' behavior in terms of the expected or even the ideal behavior. Therefore, norm does not denote average behavior. The existence of norms, noted by sociologists, has been experimentally tested by psychologists in terms of convergence of judgments of different individuals (Sherif 1936), and in terms of reactions to deviation (Schachter 1952). A norm denotes not only expected behavior but a range of acceptable behavior, the limits of which define deviate acts. The extent of the range of acceptable behavior varies inversely with the significance or consequence of the norm for the identity, integrity, and major goals of the group.

With these minimum essential features of small informally organized groups in mind, a group is defined as a social unit that consists of a number of individuals who, at a given time, stand in more or less definite interdependent status and role relationships with one another, and that explicitly or implicitly possesses a set of norms or values regulating the behavior of the individual members, at least in matters of consequence to the group.

Common group attitudes or sentiments are not included in this definition because individuals form social attitudes in relation to group norms as the individuals become functioning parts in the group structure. At the psychological level, then, the individual becomes a group member to the extent that he or she internalizes the major norms of the group and carries on the responsibilities and meets expectations for the position occupied. As pointed out by various authors, individuals' very identity and self conception, their sense of security, become closely tied to their status and role in the group through the formation of attitudes relating to their membership and position. These attitudes may be termed ego-attitudes, which function as constituent parts of the individual's ego system.


Excerpted from "The Robbers Cave Experiment"
by .
Copyright © 1988 Muzafer Sherif.
Excerpted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.
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Table of Contents

Introduction to the Wesleyan Editionby Donald T. Campbell, xiii,
Preface to the Wesleyan Edition, xxiii,
Preface to the Institute of Group Relations Editions, xxvii,
1. Integrating Field Work and Laboratory in Small Group Research, 3,
2. Approach, Hypotheses, and General Design of the Study, 24,
3. Role of Staff; Subject Selection; Experimental Site, 50,
4. Experimental Formation of Ingroups, 63,
5. Intergroup Relations: Production of Negative Attitudes Toward the Outgroup, 96,
6. Intergroup Relations: Assessment of Ingroup Functioning and Negative Attitudes Toward the Outgroup, 120,
7. Intergroup Relations: Reducing Friction, 150,
8. Summary and Conclusions, 199,
References, 215,
Index, 221,

What People are Saying About This

Ralph H. Turner

“Unusual for its effective combination of experimental method in a real life situation with the successful test of important hypotheses.”

Otto Klineberg

“[The Robbers Cave Experiment] has, in my opinion, achieved the status of a classical investigation in experimental social psychology. . . . [It] represents a valuable contribution to our knowledge in the very complicated field of intergroup relations.”

From the Publisher

"[The Robbers Cave Experiment] has, in my opinion, achieved the status of a classical investigation in experimental social psychology. . . . [It] represents a valuable contribution to our knowledge in the very complicated field of intergroup relations."—Otto Klineberg

"Magnificently conceived and brilliantly carried forward from beginning to end. . . . I do not believe that anyone can escape from the impact of the demonstration."—Gardner Murphy

"Unusual for its effective combination of experimental method in a real life situation with the successful test of important hypotheses."—Ralph H. Turner

Gardner Murphy

“Magnificently conceived and brilliantly carried forward from beginning to end. . . . I do not believe that anyone can escape from the impact of the demonstration.”

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