Robber’s Cave Experiment

The Robber’s Cave Experiment (in Castilian , the experiment Robbers Cave ) is the title of a famous study of social psychology conducted in the year 1954 by muzafer sherif and Carolyn Sherif where the origin of studying prejudice in social groups . This research took place in a large space owned by the scouts boy who was completely surrounded by the Robbers Cave State Park ( Robber’s Cave State Park ) in the state of Oklahoma .

Description of the experiment

During the study, Sherif was introduced as field guard. The study team looked at a group of 22 11-year-old male adolescents with similar life experience. They were transferred to the place by buses in two groups of eleven people. Neither group knew of the other. The boys were assigned in two areas quite far from each other, so that during the first days the presence of the ‘others’ was ignored. The investigators had cut down, as far as they could, preexisting bonds of friendship within each group, so that each boy’s identification with his new group could happen more quickly. Consulted by the name that would give to his group, some chose ” The Rattlers “, the others ” The Eagles “. After two to three days, the two groups spontaneously developed internal social hierarchies.

The experiment was divided into three phases:

  • Group formation described above.
  • Frictions, included the first contacts between the groups, sports competitions, etc.
  • Integration (friction reduction).

None of the boys knew each other before the experiment, but soon there was hostility between the groups. The activities of the second phase were executed as planned but the verification of their success was early. Hostility between groups increased to the point where the study team concluded friction production activities because of their insecurity. The second phase concluded and the third began.

To reduce friction and promote unity between the Rattlers and the Eagles , Sherif devised and introduced tasks that required cooperation between both groups. These tasks are referred to in the study as “superordinate goals”. A super-ordinated goal is a desire a challenge , a mess or danger that both sides need to solve a social conflict , and can not solve any of the two groups alone. The challenges posed by the Sherif included a problem of water shortage, a stuck field truck that needs a lot of force to be returned to the field and found a film to project. These and other necessary collaborations caused a decrease in hostile behavior. The groups intertwined to the point that at the end of the experiment the boys insisted on going home all on the same bus.


This study shows the ease with which hostility can be formed between groups and within them and is one of the most cited in the history of social psychology .

The experimental results muzafer sherif in frightening part and encouraging hand, show how humans are susceptible to hostile group behavior ( hostile troop behavior , in English), which has been observed in chimpanzees and other primates, and also How intra-group relations are very easily constituted. On the contrary, phase three evidences the human capacity to conceptualize and discuss super-ordered goals, to suspend hostilities and to work as a team to reach those goals. Apart from the artificial context of the experiments, evidence of this principle has been found, for example in the proceedings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa which followed the end of Apartheid in that country. The influence of super-ordered goals to reduce friction and promote integration between people is also observed when, following disasters, earthquakes and tsunamis, even from man-made disasters, people put their solidarity into practice and contribute in an organized way to solving or Problems generated.

When a super-ordinate goal is organized around an imminent attack, the phenomenon is known as the effect of the common enemy ( common enemy effect , in English), which is commonly seen in fictional stories like the movie Independence Day , where all Hostilities and grievances among enemy nations are cast aside when a superior alien force invades the earth . Another example of this phenomenon can be seen in the comics Watchmen , by Alan Moore , in the eponymous film made about them.

The “common enemy effect” also has a long history as a tool to motivate people to support a political cause.

A leader can “produce” a common enemy, a threat to all, in order to bring issues to the public agenda and mobilize citizens under a common cause. This low-cost policy tool can contribute significantly to strengthening and broadening the political base of a leader. It is often the first step towards a great strategic goal. The use of the Jews by Adolf Hitler (starting from pre- existing anti- Semitism in Europe ) is the most obvious example. In recent history, the media ( radio , television ) spread the voice of a leader so widely and with such repetition that most citizens are convinced that the eventual threat or enemy is true, as happened with the genocide of Rwanda .

It should also be noted that the “discovery” of common enemies can help the organization of citizenship against these common enemies. Recent examples of this phenomenon may be the fight against climate change or the global elite, which can unite and unite citizens on a global scale.