A classic psychology experiment has tested a hypothesis regarding how cooperation between disparate groups could be created. The work might be considered in our efforts to find solutions to the many health challenges facing us now.
During the 1940s and 1950s, psychologist Muzafer Sherif and his colleagues. set up an experiment in a summer camp for boys. The purpose of the exercise was to examine whether or not two groups with different agendas could be brought together. In fact, Sherif did manage to show that by creating a common emergency, groups could be brought together to work toward a common end that would serve both of them.
Sherif’s experiment took place at Robbers Cave State Park. Parental permission was obtained to include 11 to 12-year-old boys in the project. Negative information was circulated regarding each group. The result was to create a sense of hostility between two groups. While one group saw themselves in a positive light, they viewed the other in a negative light.
In other words, each group could not imagine participating with the other group in any activity until Sherif created a perfect opportunity to test his hypothesis. What did he do?
Sheriff created what is known as superordinate goals. In other words, these were goals that both groups cared about and that each would work toward attaining. The basis of the hypothesis is realistic conflict theory, sometimes also called realistic group conflict theory. When there is competition for resources that both need and can be attained only through the two groups working together, the result is cooperation rather than competition.
Considered to be a landmark study in social psychology, the method has been. Criticized by some and, as much research has shown, there are always problems or issues that were overlooked or not resolved adequately. A critique of Sherif’s experiment is offered in “The Lost Boys” by Gina Perry.
Currently, there are issues in healthcare that involve serious conflict, aka vaccination for a number of potent viruses that are affecting us worldwide. How do we manage to enlist those who are opposed to vaccination in order to protect everyone? There is no doubt we are in an era where conflict resolution is of prime importance because life depends on how we resolve our issues.
Simply bringing people together to discuss the issue may not be sufficient. Research that examined the Robbers Cave Experiment and which incorporated the mixing of these groups, did not manage to achieve its goal adequately. However, we are not in the 1950s any longer, and there may be hope for thoughtful discussion regarding the benefits to all. Vaccination, social distancing, and personal care can mean health for all — or almost all.
We know that viruses, unless contained by steps we take. have an ability to constantly mutate and become more efficient at evading our immune system’s ability to ward them off. Once the virus is in the wild and poorly contained, it becomes even more potent. Those who spread it may be asymptomatic, making them even more dangerous to everyone.
What can we glean from this work and that of other social psychologists who may have completed useful work with groups? It is eminently clear that we don’t have to reinvent the wheel, but we do need to read any work that will assist us in engendering group cooperation on healthcare in particular. Who’s looking into the social psychology research now? Of course, artificial intelligence and even OpenAI.com might be useful in this worthwhile work, but who’s doing it?
I recall being at a major research institute where they were discussing a recent protocol. As I listened, it became clear to me that they were missing one point, the involvement of others with their subjects. Sherif forgot that fact, too. Yes, it turned out to be someone’s doctoral dissertation topic after that meeting.
Here’s another research project worthy of consideration. Write your projects out, researchers and postgraduate students, because this is a big one.