Sherif (1954): Robbers Cave

Link to the GoogleBook by Sherif about this series of studies: Sherif et al (1954/1961) Intergroup conflict and cooperation: The Robbers Cave Experiment.  Original paper where you can read all the detail of the study

The exam board require you to know the 1954/1961 study in APFC/GRAVE detail. There are two dates because it was published first as an article in 1954 and then again, with anther extra chapter in 1961. It is also mentioned various later publications as well. It is your classic study and named in the specification, therefore they can ask you anything and can phrase questions in ways which require you to have a deep knowledge and understanding in order to give a nuanced and selective answer. Be sure to learn about the study in good detail.



robbers cave true and false starter: Sherif true and false

picture quiz starter available on google drive



Further reading: Platow and Hunter (2014) reflect on Sherif’s Robbers Cave Studies

If you would like to read the original paper by Tyerman and Spencer, the failed replication with UK boy Scouts, click here on their names!

Creating your poster board:

  • your TRUE or FALSE quiz?
  • Web Grave diagram with annotations in the form of well developed chains of reason PET structured strengths and weakness
  • “on the one hand and on the other hand” : draw round your hands
  • You need to write:
    • A diary entry from point of view of one of the Rattlers
    • A diary entry from point of view of one of the Eagles
    • Field notes written up one one of the camp counsellors
    • A diary entry from point of view of one of boys parents as they wonder how their child is getting on.
    • The ethics committee writing to Sherif with the decision to let the project go ahead but only with certain important provisos; use the BPS ethical code of conduct 2009 to inform your letter
    • be sue to cvoer the full apfc on the posters and use lots of images, from google images/photographs and also your own hand drawn aspects.
    • I have high hopes!

Practice Questions:

  1. Describe the…
  • aim (2)
  • procedure (4)
  • findings (4)
  • conclusions (2)

of one classic study you have learned about as part of social psychology.

2. Describe one classic study you have learned about as part of social psychology (5)

3. Explain one strength and one weakness of the classic study you described above (2+2)

4. Evaluate one classic study you have learned about as part of social psychology (8)

5. Explain how Sherif et al. measured prejudice in their study (2)

6.  Explain how Sherif et al. measured discrimination  in their study (2)

7. Explain one way in which Sherif et al. could have improved their study (2)

8. Explain one issue with the validity of Sherif et al.’s study and one way in which this could have been overcome (4)

9. Explain one issue with the reliability  of Sherif et al.’s study and one way in which this could have been overcome (4)

10. Explain one issue with the generalisability of Sherif et al.’s study and one way in which this could have been overcome (4)

11. Explain one issue with the ethics  of Sherif et al.’s study and one way in which this could have been overcome (4)

12. Explain one practical application of  Sherif et al.’s study (3)


A few thoughts and quotes to get you thinking:

The following quotes are taken from Sherif (1954/61)

In Sherif’s instructions to the camp staff:

“do not use verbal means to influence subjects, do not take initiative to introduce activities on your own accord, and do not try to counsel campers individually. Of course, this does not mean a “hands off” or non-direction policy in any matter which even slightly concerns the whereaboutssafetyhealth and well being of the campers concerned”

How can this quote be used to evaluate the study? 

six boys were eliminated “from the final subject list because they were acquainted with others previously chosen”

Why is this a strength of the study? 

What did Sherif tell the parents? Sherif says that he gave the same information to the parents as the school principals that he had already approached. Here is what he said to the principals:

“It was explained to the principal that an experimental camp under the auspices of the University of Oklahoma was being conducted. The announced purpose of the camp was the study of interaction in group activities within teams and between teams. The statement of purpose was informally worded but uniform. It was pointed out that one of the main things that would be studied was how team members assumed and carried out initiative and responsibility under adult supervision, what would be the attitude of the boys as they participated in activities toward common goals they wanted to attain and also the attitudes that would occur when they competed with another bunch of boys. It was explained that another item for study was how the boys take it when they win or lose in various activities, when things are not going their way, when they feel others are being good or bad sports or unfair, when situations are felt as more or less frustrating, as well as how the boys pull together and cooperate toward common goals”

In addition Sherif also told them that …

“no visiting of the boys would be permitted. The explanation given was that such visits would contribute to problems of homesickness which would be detrimental both to the enjoyment of the boys at camp and the success of the study. They were also told that there was a nominal fee (twenty-five dollars for the entire period) and that a doctor’s examination and permission for the boy to participate in all camp activities would be required, in addition to their own permission”

Thinking about the above quotes and everything else that you know about the study, to what extent can Sherif’s research be considered ethical? (8)

“Making allowance for the fact that one group came to camp one day earlier, the hours spent in observation of each group by the participant observers alone (not counting observation time of other staff members) were 240 and 252 hours respectively, or a total of 492 hours for both groups. The participant observers jotted down in short form outside of the vision of subjects as soon as possible after an event occurred, then expanded their notes during the afternoon rest period and after the subjects went to sleep around 9:30 P. M. At that time, a complete report of observations for the day was written and ratings made by the observer. An additional source of data at some crucial points consisted of answers and reactions of subjects about events in response to naive questions by staff members who could appropriately ask such questions because they had not been present when the events occurred. In addition to the observational reports, 1200 pictures were taken during the three-week period. In order to attract as little attention to the picture taking as possible, staff members exhibited to the subjects as they arrived at the bus which would take them to camp that they were shutter-bugs – conspicuously taking pictures of every conceivable object in the vicinity. Conversations were recorded by a hidden tape recorded at some choice points without the awareness of the subjects. Plans for portable [p. 74] recorders which were to be used in a candid way unfortunately did not materialize because our order for two portable recorders could not be filled at the proper time.”

How can the preceding information be used to evaluate the study?