The Lost Boys: Inside Muzafer Sherif’s Robbers Cave Experiment

Gina Perry. Scribe, $18 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-1-947534-60-5
Using archival notes and new interviews, Australian psychologist Perry (Behind the Shock Machine) looks at a notable 1954 experiment in Oklahoma’s remote Robbers Cave State Park in her unsatisfying history. After recruiting almost two dozen 11-year-old boys and dividing them into two competitive teams, social psychologist Muzafer Sherif and his team showed how, over the course of a few weeks, friendships could devolve into intense, sometimes violent, antagonism. Conversely, the boys would drop their antagonism and reunite when facing a common challenge. Perry uncovers some deep flaws in the experiment, which she calls a “choreographed enactment,” with the staff sometimes acting as “agents provocateurs.” Perry also spends time with some of the surviving subjects, now in their 70s, exploring whether any psychological effects remain. However, she drops this line of inquiry abruptly to devote her book’s last third to Sherif’s biography, which Perry hypothesizes might have influenced his “tribal war and peace research”: as a boy in the early 1920s, he witnessed particularly brutal violence between Greeks and Turks in the Anatolian town where he grew up. This seems plausible, but Perry does not really anchor it in Sherif’s own writings. Her long profile of him, and description of his experiment, will likely remain unsurpassed, but she never clearly establishes the Robbers Cave study’s long-term significance. (Apr.)
Reviewed on : 01/10/2019
Release date: 04/01/2019
Genre: Nonfiction
MP3 CD - 978-1-72134-043-9
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