Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Realistic Conflict Theory

The Realistic Conflict Theory is a theory within social psychology that believes that limited resources will lead to competition and will directly result in discrimination and stereotypes. The main experiment associated with the Realistic Conflict Theory is the Robbers Cave experiment in which two groups of boys who did not know each other were formed. The experiment proceeded in three phases:
1. In-group formation
2. Friction phase
3. Integration phase
The In-group phase involved the hierarchical formation within the group as the boys became more accustomed to each other. The Friction phase was where the two groups were made to compete in a series of ways including sports. It was found that hostility between the groups occurred just a few days after the Friction Phase had begun and was becoming so intense that the phase had to be ended early for safety. The third phase was an integration phase in which the two groups participated in activities in which they needed to cooperate with each other. The result of this was a decrease in hostile behavior as the two groups bonded. The Robbers Cave experiment demonstrates not only how different groups can polarize due to competition, but also that this polarization can be reversed.
There are many examples of resources polarizing communities including a study (1979-2002) in the Netherlands that showed the changing attitudes of the Dutch towards immigrants (Coenders, 2008). The results of the study showed that attitudes towards immigrants were more negative during high periods of immigration in which unemployment was higher which demonstrate the competition that results from the scarcity of resources (in this case jobs).
This competition over resources can also be found in The Congo as the Hutus and the Tutsis continue to fight over the oil and other natural resources. This conflict has been going on for decades and is another example of the Realistic Conflict Theory.
The Realistic Conflict Theory and the Robbers Cave Experiment imply that the polarization of groups over resources can be reversed; however, this has not been seen on a large scale. This could be because there are factors other than resources that cause the polarizations and also because of the length of time that the conflict has been going on. It is much more difficult for most people to forget decades or centuries of hatred than a few days such as with the Robbers Cave Experiment. By accepting the Realistic Conflict Theory it may be possible to resolve some conflicts by causing the two groups to cooperate and hoping a bond will form between the two that will lessen hostility. However, this may not be practical with large groups of hundreds of thousands of people and may only be feasible in small groups of no more than a few dozen or hundred.

Coenders, Marcel. (2008). More than Two decades of changing ethnic attitudes in the netherlands. Journal of social issues, (2), 269.

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