Evaluate Realistic Conflict Theory (8)

evaluate-realistic-conflict-theory-8-revised-for2017 This handout is colour coded with AO1 in yellow, AO3 signpost phrases in green and references to the question in red.

A well-developed chain of reason using research evidence: You can see the sentences are evaluative from the outset (green) but that there is also good knowledge of RCT picked out (yellow). The term RCT is picked out in red throughout to show that the answer never deviates to far from the topic in question.
One strength of Sherif’s Realistic Conflict Theory (RCT) is that it is supported by Sherif’s (1954) Robbers Cave field experiment. This study was designed to test the idea that prejudice stems from inter-group competition and that when two or more groups are striving for the same goal, hostility will intensify. RCT claims that rivalries escalate even further in negative interdependence situations, where a conflict of interests arises, as only one group can reach a goal, which is important to more than one group.
During stage 2 of this study, the camp counsellors created a co-called “zero sum situation” by pitting the boys against each other in a tournament where the winning team would win trophies and pen-knives and as predicted by RCT this led to an escalation of rivalry including name calling and physical fights.

Furthermore, the competition intensified further when the counsellors deliberately told one gang the wrong time for the picnic, so that food became scarce (a physical commodity). Manipulations such as this led to enhanced  ingroup solidarity and favouritism, e.g. ingroup boys were referred to as brave and tough and outgroups boys were called sneaky or Smart Alec.

Moreover, the boys overestimated their own achievements in a bean hunt task and finally they named very few of the outgroup boys as their friends when asked to rate each other, (6.4% in one group and only 7.5% in the other).

Outgroup hostility was also intensified as indicated by observations of physical scuffles and name calling and in one case the burning of the other team’s flag.

These findings are important as they underline the importance of competition is triggering prejudice and discrimination. Sherif was also able to show how the hostility he had created could be reduced in stage 3 through the introduction of superordinate goals such as mending a broken water pump and hauling the camp truck out of the mud. This lead to an increase in the number of friendships drawn from outgroups members as percentages rose to 36.4% and 23.2% across the two groups. Also, the boys wanted to organise a campfire and travel home on one bus together. This is also important because it demonstrates that RCT has provided positive solutions for reducing prejudice between groups in society through the use of superordinate goals which can only be achieved through co-operation, thus making opposing groups more inter-dependent leading to more harmonious relations in the future.
Introducing competing arguments:
Comparing with another theory:  Some psychologists would argue that hostility existed between the boys at Robbers Cave at the end of stage 1 as soon as they became aware of each other’s presence at the campsite, and this hostility and desire to want to prove who was best was immediate and in the absence of a conflict of interests as described by Sherif’s RCT. The mere existence of an outgroup seemed enough to cause animosity and this observation is much better explained by Tajfel’s Social Identity Theory.
Moreover, Robbers Cave does not provide especially great evidence for RCT and suggests that RCT may only predict outcomes for teenage boys in an individualist culture (USA). This argument is supported by Tyerman and Spencer who attempted to replicate the results with Boy Scouts in the UK and failed miserably, as the competition element did not seem to inspire the levels of hostility observed in the 1950s studies in the US. This demonstrates that RCT may be wrong and is reductionist as it oversimplifies a complex phenomenon where the cultural and social norms of each group are important determinants of how they will interact with others even in a competitive situation. Certainly, Sherif has been criticised for viewing competition in such a negative light as many would argue that healthy completion draws out better performances and encourages group members to work well together which can be a seen as a positive thing.
Another competing argument:
A further criticism Robbers Cave as evidence for RCT, is that although it is a field experiment, it is still artificial in that Sherif created the groups and set them in competition with each other, and this could be seen as detracting from the ecological validity.
This said, Ember and Ember (1992) observed that hardship due to famine or natural disasters often led to warfare amongst tribal societies to secure access to scarce resources. Although this study is only correlational, reducing the internal validity of the conclusions, the variables are naturally occurring thus enhancing external validity and suggesting that RCT may well be helpful in predicting when violence might occur in real world settings and thus potentially helping to indicate when intervention may be necessary to prevent acts of genocide for example.


Developing a well-developed chain of reason (argument):
This argument is supported by the study by Hovland and Sears 9(1940) who identified a significant negative correlation of -0.72 between the price of cotton and the number of lynching of black people by white people in the Southern states of America between 1882-1930, suggesting that as economic hardship and competition for resources increased, so did hostility towards an outgroup.
Competing argument
However in this study, the groups were not in direct competition with each other for anything particular as the white group already had the power and this is a failing in RCT as it does not explain why one group may show higher levels of hostility to the other group, than that group show to them in return. The theory also does consider power differences between the two groups which might exist as in the supporting evidence from Robbers Cave the groups were equally matched and therefore probably both felt that they had an equal chance at winning. In real life situations one group often is oppressed by the other and has less power and this is not really acknowledged in RCT.
Chain of reason using an application to rea life:
A further strength of RCT is its ability to predict prejudice and discrimination in the real world. For example, in the Rwandan the Hutus killed 800,00 Tutsis over 3 months, and this event was preceded by an economic downturn and political unrest as the two groups competed for political power. This is important real world evidence for RCT showing that competition for limited physical resources, e.g. food or territory or for more abstract resources, such as political power can result in the most horrifying outpouring of discrimination.
Balanced conclusion
In conclusion, RCT appears a useful addition to the literature explaining prejudice as it highlights the fact that groups do not interact within a socio-economic or political vacuum and the idea that real competition for limited resources as an important trigger for violence is an important contribution to society. This said, the theory underplays the positive aspects of competition within groups, including the fact that individual group members self-esteem maybe enhanced through increased ingroup solidarity – it is therefore important not to assume that competition results only in negative outcomes.