Reflections on the Robbers Cave Experiment: Finding Lessons on Political Conflict, Racism, Xenophobia, and Business Environments




Realistic Conflict Theory, Robbers Cave Experiment, Intergroup Conflict, In-Group, Out-Group


The Robbers Cave Experiment in the mid-1950s by Muzafer Sherif and his colleagues advanced the realistic conflict theory, whose main premise is that conflict is inevitable whenever two (or more) in-groups are brought together in mutual competition for scarce resources. This conflict is driven by prejudice and discrimination, and may take on various forms of hostilities and aggressions towards a competing out-group. However, a resolution of the conflict is possible when the two (or more) competing in-groups are forced to work together to attain mutually beneficial superordinate goals. Whereas the Robbers Cave Experiment suffers from serious questions of ethics and confirmation bias, the lessons that draw from the tested hypotheses have remained germane to the understanding of realistic conflict theory. In this study, the author seeks to reflect on this (in)famous experiment and draw poignant comparisons and lessons as they relate to some contemporary examples in political conflicts, racism, xenophobia, business workplaces, and mergers and acquisitions. The author repeatedly acknowledges the blurring influence of the criticisms of the experiment on the clarity of these reflections.

Author Biography

Vonwicks C. Onyango, Department of Medicine, St. Joseph Rift Valley Hospital, Gilgil, Nakuru County, Kenya

Consultant Physician, Department of Medicine,

St. Joseph Rift Valley Hospital, Gilgil, Nakuru County, KENYA


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How to Cite

Onyango, V. C. (2023). Reflections on the Robbers Cave Experiment: Finding Lessons on Political Conflict, Racism, Xenophobia, and Business Environments. American Journal of Human Psychology, 1(1), 34–38.