The Lost Boys: Inside Muzafer Sherif’s Robbers Cave experiment
Scribe, $32.99 pb, 400 pp, 9781925322354
Social psychology has a few iconic experiments that have entered public consciousness. There is the shaken but obliging participant who delivers potentially lethal electric shocks to another person in Stanley Milgram’s obedience research. There are the young Californians who descend into an orgy of brutality and degradation while enacting the roles of prisoners and guards in Philip Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment. Below this celebrated group of studies there is a second tier of field-defining experiments, many conducted in the mid-twentieth century in the shadow of the Holocaust and the Cold War, which aimed to lay bare the roots of compliance, conformity, and prejudice. Many embodied a liberal but anti-collectivist world view: people do not act immorally because they are intrinsically evil or spineless but because social influence is powerful, and because it is powerful it must be resisted.