Have you ever wondered why there is so much hate in the world? No matter where you live in the world, there will be groups that oppose each other. I remember living in South Africa, the English speaking South Africans didn’t like the Afrikaans speakers and vice versa. Even in a country as small as Belgium, the Flemish would complain about the French and the French moaned about the Flemish. Hate and opposition defines the modern world we live in. The current conflict between Palestinians and Israelis is yet another example of how humans can hate.
“Us” versus “Them” theory
Wherever groups exist, the possibility of an “us and them” mentality can emerge. Our brains like cognitive shortcuts where we group people and stereotype to reduce the amount of information required to categorize information. This can lead to prejudice and bias against others that is incorrect. We may hate a group but I am sure that if we got to know someone personally in the “other group” we would most likely find things we like about them and our attitudes would change for the better.
This theory suggests when we perceive that our group is in direct competition with another, especially over a limited resource, we are likely to experience hostility toward members of that group. Opposing goals create conflict and hate as well. The mere categorization of people into an us and a them is enough to produce hostilities. Groups nurture so much hate in the world when they have opposing ideologies.
The Robbers Cave Study
During the 1950s, the landmark Robbers Cave experiment demonstrated that when groups must compete with one another, intergroup conflict, hostility, and even violence may result. At the Oklahoman summer camp, two troops of boys—termed the Rattlers and the Eagles—took part in a week-long tournament. Hate in the world is fostered when groups possess prejudices and biases and don’t check their beliefs.
The boys arrived at camp in two separate groups: for the first part of the study, they spent time with members of their own group, without knowing that the other group existed. After a short period of time, the boys became aware that there was another group at camp and, upon learning of the other group, the campers group spoke negatively about the other group. At this point, the researchers began the next phase of the study: a competitive tournament between the groups, consisting of games such as baseball and tug-of-war, for which the winners would receive prizes and a trophy.
What the Researchers Found
After the Eagles and Rattlers began competing in the tournament, the relationship between the two groups quickly became tense. The groups began trading insults, and the conflict quickly spiraled. The teams each burned the other group’s team flag, and raided the other group’s cabin. The researchers also found that the group hostilities were apparent on surveys distributed to the campers: campers were asked to rate their own team and the other team on positive and negative traits, and the campers rated their own group more positively than the rival group. During this time, the researchers also noticed a change within the groups as well: the groups became more cohesive.
How Conflict Was Reduced
To determine the factors that could reduce group conflict, the researchers first brought the campers together for fun activities (such as having a meal or watching a movie together). However, this didn’t work to reduce conflict; for example, meals together devolved into food fights.
Next, Sherif and his colleagues tried having the two groups work on what psychologists call superordinate goals, goals that both groups cared about, which they had to work together to achieve. For example, the camp’s water supply was cut off (a ploy by the researchers to force the two groups to interact), and the Eagles and Rattlers worked together to fix the problem.
In another instance, a truck bringing the campers food wouldn’t start (again, an incident staged by the researchers), so members of both groups pulled on a rope to pull the broken truck. These activities didn’t immediately repair the relationship between the groups (at first, the Rattlers and Eagles resumed hostilities after a superordinate goal was achieved), but working on shared goals eventually reduced conflict.
The groups stopped calling each other names, perceptions of the other group (as measured by the researchers’ surveys) improved, and friendships even began to form with members of the other group. By the end of camp, some of the campers requested that everyone (from both groups) take the bus home together, and one group bought beverages for the other group on the ride home.
Realistic Conflict Theory
The Robbers Cave experiment has often been used to illustrate realistic conflict theory (also called realistic group conflict theory), the idea that group conflict can result from competition over resources (whether those resources are tangible or intangible). In particular, hostilities are hypothesized to occur when the groups believe that the resource they’re competing for is in limited supply.
However, the Robbers Cave study also shows that conflict can occur in the absence of a competition for resources, as the boys began speaking negatively about the other group even before the researchers introduced the tournament. In other words, as social psychologist Donelson Forsyth explains, the Robbers Cave study also demonstrates how readily people engage in social categorization, or dividing themselves into an ingroup and an outgroup.
Being part of a group has powerful effects on people’s identities and behaviours. Being part of a group shifts your perceptions and may raise the likelihood of hate towards others not in the group. People change their behaviour or attitudes to match those of the group they identify with or seek to belong to. Group members often prematurely seek consensus, influencing decisions and actions. The original attitudes of individuals become exaggerated when shared by others. Group members can fuel each other’s sense of superiority, dislike for adversaries and outrage at any perceived threat. In extreme cases, this exaggerated polarization can lead to group frenzy and mob behaviour.
This is the tendency to do (or believe) things because many other people do (or believe) the same. Related to groupthink, herd behavior and conformity.
Zimbardo’s Stanford Experiment
The Stanford prison experiment is one of the most famous social psychology experiments in history: 24 volunteers divided into guards and inmates in a fake prison in the basement of the Californian university.
After only six days of confinement, researcher Philip Zimbardo cancelled the experiment after the “intensification of the harassment of the inmates” and criticism from a collaborator. Recurrently accused of fraud, the Stanford experiment adds to various books, films and documentaries, having become a myth of psychological experiments.
The main reference that Philip Zimbardo relied on to develop this essay was Milgram’s experiment at Yale University in which the ‘teachers’ lost control by giving (fake) electric shocks to actors pretending to be students. Zimbardo wanted to go a step further by eliminating the actors . Only he acting as superintendent and a collaborator assuming the role of warden would be in charge of ‘monitoring’ the experiment.
His objective was similar to Milgram’s: he wanted to know to what extent a normal person can change his behavior in an extreme situation, what path a normal person will take to exercise authority , with moderation and a sense of justice or with lack of control and sadism.
On the first day of the experiment nothing happened, but on the morning of the second day there was a rebellion among the inmates who barricaded the cells by placing the beds against the door, also taking off their caps and numbers. It was the beginning of the conflict that would lead five days later to the cancellation of the experiment.
The guards used all kinds of strategies to regain control of the situation : from threatening them with a fire extinguisher, to creating privileged cells, to punishing the leaders of the rebellion by stripping them naked and taking away their food. With this, they managed to begin to divide the inmates who no longer acted as a group.
Different attitudes were distinguished among the guards : there were the “tough, but fair”, the “colleagues” who did favours for the inmates… And then there was ‘ John Wayne ‘, a guard too immersed in his role who repeatedly harassed and humiliated the inmates. prisoners.
On the inmates’ side, there were also different types according to Zimbardo. Four of them had nervous breakdowns including a psychosomatic rash all over the body. Others acted like “good inmates” doing everything the guards ordered them to do.
Anyone can behave ruthlessly if they have ‘the upper hand’ in a critical situation and anyone can break down psychologically under great pressure.
Hate in the world is sadly enabled by social media. I have been targeted on Twitter and know what it feels like to be bullied by others. People make assumptions and use social media as a legitimate format to bully others and release their own hateful thoughts and behaviours on others. Tolerance and understanding takes a back seat and social media is now a vehicle to push negative energy around onto others. It’s a sad state of affairs when you observe how much hate there is on social media. It’s far easier to be aggressive when you can hide at home and spew negativity around you with fewer repercussions. Misinformation and propaganda brainwash people and foster hatred.
Ways to reduce hate in the world
- Be a critical thinker and find out information about other groups for yourself. Don’t necessarily believe everything that you hear about or read in the media. We often make assumptions about others and stereotype but as I said earlier, if we had to sit down with an individual from the other group, it is highly likely that we would find positive qualities in them and our attitudes would shift to a more positive approach. At the end of the day, we are all people who require love and acceptance and need to feel valued. These basic needs are universal.
- Be aware of biases and prejudice and work to challenge these approaches towards unfamiliar groups. It’s easy to demonise people that we don’t know and lump them together into a negative category.
- Have compassion for others. Some behaviours are inexcusable such as genocide and oppression but I am referring to general attitudes that you may have towards another group. Try to put yourself in their shoes and understand WHY they behave in a certain way. Empathy and tolerance go a long way to fostering kindness in the world.
- Stand up for what’s right and remember your healthy values. It helps to look up to someone who has faced this kind of challenge and managed to act. It might be someone in your family who has taken in refugees from a war-torn country. Or it might be someone like civil rights activist Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus in defiance of racist segregation laws. Having a role model can boost your heroic potential in the real world:
- Make an effort to get to know people who are different from you. Speak to a homeless person. You might be surprised by their life story. Think outside the box when it comes to your social circle and your life will be enriched. In one extreme example, African-American pianist Daryl Davis took the risk of getting to know members of the Ku Klux Klan personally. Confronted with living evidence that their hateful ideas were wrong, a number of these men ultimately resigned from the Klan and gave Davis their hoods and robes. Davis’ story illustrates that forging human connections with those you fear, or those who have disappointed you, in no way implies acceptance of prejudice or wrongdoing. If someone makes a bigoted remark, for instance, calling that person out—telling them you won’t stand for it—may be the highest form of love you can demonstrate.
In the famous Good Samaritan experiment conducted at Princeton University, people who were in a hurry to get somewhere were far less likely to stop and help a distressed victim in an alley. And when multiple people are watching a dire situation unfold, each individual observer is often less likely to help. Psychologists call this the bystander effect, and it’s rooted in our very human tendency to assume someone else will act.
In Heroic Imagination Project workshops, students learn to pause in high-stakes situations and ask themselves what action reflects their true values. “Take [a] brief time out before acting mindlessly or making decisions impulsively,” Zimbardo says. It only takes a second or two, but it can make a lifetime’s worth of difference to someone in trouble.
Superordinate goals to ease hate in the world
Sadly, as long as groups exist in the world with opposing goals and limited resources, hate in the world is likely to continue. I often imagine aliens descending on Earth one day, confused at how much we fight each other. Perhaps if aliens arrived, we would finally have a legitimate superordinate goal to work together. Wouldn’t that be amazing…