Classics in the History of Psychology

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Christopher D. Green
York University, Toronto, Ontario

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Intergroup Conflict and Cooperation: The Robbers Cave Experiment

Muzafer Sherif, O. J. Harvey, B. Jack White, William R. Hood, Carolyn W. Sherif (1954/1961)

Preface -- 1961

The report of this large-scale experiment dealing with factors conducive to conflict and cooperation between groups was first released in August, 1954 and was sent in multilithed form to colleagues active in small group research. Since then, it has appeared in condensed form in books and journals and has been presented in lecture form at various universities and professional associations.

In view of numerous requests from colleagues engaged in small group research, instructors in institutions of higher learning, and the interest expressed by colleagues in political science, economics and social work in the applicability of the concept of superordinate goals to intergroup problems in their own areas, the original report is being released now with very minor editorial changes.

Two new chapters have been added in the present volume. Chapter 1 presents a theoretical background related to small group research and to leads derived from the psychological laboratory. It was written originally at the request of Professor Fred Strodtbeck of the University of Chicago, editor for the special issue on small group research of the American Sociological Review (December, 1954). This chapter summarizes our research program since the mid-thirties, which was initiated in an attempt to integrate field and laboratory approaches to the study of social interaction. Chapter 8 was written especially for this release to serve as a convenient summary of the theoretical and methodological orientation, the plan and procedures of the experiment, and the main findings, with special emphasis on the reduction of intergroup conflict through the introduction of a series of superordinate goals.

We are especially indebted to Mrs. Betty Frensley for her alert help in typing and other tasks connected with the preparation of this volume. Thanks are due Nicholas Pollis and John Reich for proofreading several chapters.

The experiment could not have been realized without the utmost dedication and concentrated efforts, beyond the call of duty, of my associates whose names appear with mine on the title page. However, as the person responsible for the proposal prepared for the Rockefeller Foundation in 1951 and with final responsibility in the actual conduct of the experiment and material included in the report, I absolve them from any blame for omissions or commissions in this presentation.

On this occasion it is a pleasure to acknowledge the understanding support and encouragement extended by the Social Science Division of the Rockefeller Foundation to this project on intergroup relations, a research area notably lacking in systematic experimental studies in spite of its overriding import in the present scheme of human relations.

This preface is being written with a heavy heart. The research program of which this experiment was an important part lost a great friend by the death of Carl I. Hovland of Yale University in April, 1961. It was Carl Hovland who, from the very inception of the research project on intergroup relations in 1947, gave an understanding and insightful ear and an effective hand to its implementation. The give-and-take with his searching questions, wise counsel and steadfast friendship through thick and thin will be sorely missed in the continuation of our research program.

                                                                                                                                               Muzafer Sherif

Institute of Group Relations
The University of Oklahoma
Norman, Oklahoma
June 5, 1961

chapter 1