Put Kids in the Wilderness, Make Them Go to War
In the summer of 1954, social psychologist Muzafer Sherif wanted to see if two groups stuck in the wild would learn to hate each other. What else was there to do but try it?
Thus kicked off his Robbers Cave experiment, in which a group of 11 ordinary, middle-class 11-year-old boys headed to summer camp at Robbers Cave State Park in Oklahoma, anxious for three fun-filled weeks of hiking, fishing and swimming. They were completely unaware that their parents had signed them up for Sherif's experiment, and that there was a second group of campers elsewhere on the site that they would be trained to hate.
"In retrospect, providing the camp chapel with a full-sized crucifix was tragically misguided."
For the first week, the groups were kept apart and encouraged to participate in separate team-building events and activities, in order to form relationships within each group. They established their own hierarchy and elected leaders, and gave their groups names -- the Eagles and the Rattlers, because it was the 1950s. Each group even designed flags to represent themselves. Then, once each group had formed a close-knit bond, the Eagles and the Rattlers conveniently "discovered" each other, and both sides approached the situation with about as much grace and understanding as David Duke running a three-legged race with Tyler Perry.
To see how much conflict they could instigate between the two groups, the experimenters arranged a tournament with events like baseball and tug-of-war, promising shiny trophies and pocket knives to the winners, because as we all know, the one prize you should always award a warring band of feral children is a knife. With a little creative prodding, what started with boos and insults quickly escalated into a full-out battle, ending with the Eagles burning the Rattlers' flag after being defeated at tug-of-war.
A nationalistic coup then wracked the Rattlers, leading to the establishment of a military junta.