restricted access 7. Intergroup Relations: Reducing Friction
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7 Intergroup Relations: Reducing Friction At this stage of the experiment, we could undertake the main objective of our study, namely the reduction of intergroup friction. There were now two distinct groups in an unmistakable state of friction with one another. The groups exhibited, in word and deed, repeated hostility toward one another; they standardized unflattering attitudes and stereotypes toward one another. The derogatory attitudes toward one another were not the consequence of preexisting feelings or attitudes that the subjects had when they came to the experimental site. They were not the consequence of ethnic, religious, educational, or other background differentiation among the subjects. Nor were they the result of any extraordinary personal frustrationin the particularlife histories of the subjects, or of marked differentiation in physical, intellectual, or other psychological abilities or characteristics of the subjects. Possible effects of such differences were carefully ruled out in the laborious procedures used in subject selection (see Chapter 3). The state of friction was produced systematically by introducing conditions of rivalryand frustrationperceived by the subjects as stemming from the other group. By the end of Stage 2, as we have seen, the intergroup friction was crystallized in some unfavorable stereotypes and in the repeatedly expressed desire to have nothing more to do with the other group. To be sure, the words and deeds of hostility, the unflattering stereotypes toward the outgroup, and the self-righteousness of the ingroup were not expressed with the same determination, the same vehemence, the same degree of feeling by any two group members. But, whatever the differentiating degree o intensity in the unique personal manifestation of hostility,the general trend of a negative attitude toward the outgroup was a propertycommon to all group members. The intergroup hostility prevailed despite the occurrence of occasional interpersonal rivalry,bickering, and fric150 Reducing Friction 151 tion in the relations within each group. Two boys who at a given moment engaged in some interpersonal exchange of unfavorable reactions toward one another would join hands a few minutes later in a concerted, common front in carrying out the developing intergroup trend in relation to the outgroup. It should also be remembered that the ingroup identification and solidarity in ingroup and intergroup relations did not stem from preexisting interpersonal ties. The boys were not even personally acquainted with one another prior to the study. The two ingroups themselves were experimentally produced from scratch in the manner reported in Chapter 4. Approach to Reducing Friction It would have been a relatively easy task to bring about positive relations or harmony between groups right after the formation of the two ingroups. We deliberately postponed this positive step in intergroup relations until after the unpleasant task of producing a state of friction, because the vital issue of intergroup relations in the presentday world is the reduction of existing intergroup friction. The general character of the alternative chosen in our attempt to reduce friction was stated in Chapter 2. Our choice represented a rejection of several other alternatives. The alternative of appeal to a "common enemy/' which was effectively used in our 1949 study because of expediency at the time, was not used. The unification of groups against a common enemy necessarily implies widening the area of conflict. We also rejected the alternative of reducing tension by disintegrating the groups as units through devices that make individual "shining" and rivalry supreme without concern for the other fellow. By following such an approach, we would have destroyed the property of intergroup relations that makes its study so crucial, namely, the relations between group units. Likewise, the alternative that exclusively emphasizes the role of leaders in charge misses the mark, because the effectiveness of leaders , even though weighty, is not unlimited. Leaders are not immune to influences coming from the rank and file, once a group trend gets rolling, even though initially the leaders might have been largely responsible for starting the trend. 152 The Robbers Cave Experiment With such considerations in mind, we chose the alternative of introducing common, superordinate goals of sufficient appeal value. But before doing so, we studied the possible effect of mere intergroup contact as equals, because there are adherents of this approach in both academic and practitionercircles. At this point a word of clarification concerning the concept of contact will be helpful. The word contact has flexible denotations that allow it to become a blanket term. It could be used to refer to any kind of perceptible interpersonal or intergroup interaction. In customary usage in...


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Subject Headings

  • Small groups -- Case studies.
  • Intergroup relations -- Case studies.
  • Social interaction -- Case studies.
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