Muzafer Sherif

(1906 - 1988)

Compiled by Robin Stock (Dec 1999)

Sherif Biography
Time Line

The study of Social Psychology emerged between 1908 and 1924. Muzafer Sherif, one of the founders of social psychology, stands out as one of the main forces behind its growth in the in the 30's (Baron, Byrne 1997). His work with group processes and inner group conflict following social norms still serves as a reference point to researchers studying groups today.

On July 29, 1906 in Odemis, Izmir, Turkey, Muzafer Serif Basoglu, who later changed his name to Muzafer Sherif, was born the second child of five to a fairly wealthy family. He obtained a B.A. at the American International College in Izmir in 1927 and recieved his first MA in 1929 at the University of Istanbul. Then, he came to America where he earned his second masters at Harvard University in 1932. Sherif then spent some time in Berlin listening to lectures under Kohler. In 1935 he submitted his thesis Some Social Factors In Perception earning his Ph.D. under Gardner Murphy at Columbia University. In 1936, he released his first publication, a treatise on The psychology of Social Norms (Kinsman, 1975; Harvey,1989).

After obtaining his Ph.D. he went to teach at Ankara University in Turkey where, with the help of students, he translated some important psychology works into the Turkish Language. His outspoken opposition to the Nazi Movement landed him in a Turkish prison. Four months later, at the insistence of his graduate students in America, the U. S. Department of State arranged for his release and return to America in 1944. Once in America, he stayed a few days as a guest in the Blair House in Washington D.C. before moving on to Princeton as a Fellow of the U.S. State Department. Sherif met and married Carolyn Wood in 1945 (Kinsman, 1975; Harvey,1989).

Throughout his career at various colleges and organizations, he worked in a variety of roles: assistant professor of psychology, professor of psychology, U.S. Department of State Fellow, resident fellow in psychology, professor of sociology, research professor of psychology, director of institute of Group relations, consulting Professor in department of psychiatry, distinguished visiting professor, and professor emeritus. Sherif focused his studies mainly on understanding group processes and succeeded in making significant contributions to the field of social psychology. Active in the fields of psychology and sociology, Sherif belonged to many organizations: fellow and council member of American Psychological Association, American Sociological Association, Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, American Orthopsychiatric Association, American Association of University Professors, and Sigma Xi. During his career, he recieved several awards including the Rockefeller Fellow in 1935-36, the Kurt Lewin Memorial Award from the Society for Psychological study of Social Issues and Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship in 1967, the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award from APA in 1968, and the Distinguished Senior Social Psychologist Award from the Society for the Study of Experimental Social Psychology in 1978. He was the first ever to receive the Cooley-Mead Reward for Contributions to Social Psychology from the American Sociological Society (Kinsman, 1975; Harvey, 1989).

His publications exceed 24 books and 60 articles. Much of his research was jointly conducted with his wife, Carolyn (Thorne, Henley, 1997; Koslin, Sills [ed], 1979). Five months before his death, Sherif visited his the Jefferson Memorial. Sherif considered Jefferson his hero. Sherif died on October 16, 1988 of a heart attack while in Fairbanks, Alaska at the age of 82 (Trosky, 1989; Harvey, 1989).

REALISTIC CONFLICT THEORY: Sherif's view of science derived from early works, such as Einstein's and Infeld's The Evolution of Physics published in 1942. Sherif held that his concern focused on the how rather than the what in regards to cognition. Although probabilistic thinking influenced Sherif, he seldom found opportunities to apply statistical tests to his data because the data tended to be overwhelmingly conclusive even without statistical evaluation (Koslin, Sills [ed], 1979).

The research of Sherif built a base for most of the understanding we have today about the nature of groups and its members. One famous theory, developed by Sherif in 1961, became known as the Realistic Conflict Theory which accounts for inner group conflict, negative prejudices, and stereotypes as a result of actual competition between groups for desired resources. Sherif validated his theory in one his most famous experiments, "The Robber's Cave (Cialdini, Kenrick, Neuberg,1999)."

In this experiment, 22 white, fifth grade, 11 year old boys with average-to- good school performance and above average intelligence with a protestent, two parent background were sent to a special remote summer camp in Oklahoma, Robbers Cave State Park. The remoteness of the part ensured that the study remained free from external influences and that the true nature of conflict and prejudice could be studied. None of the boys knew each other prior to the study. The researchers divided the boys into two different groups and assigned them cabins far apart from each other. During this first phase, the groups did not know of the other group's existence. The boys developed an attachment to their groups throughout the first week of the camp by doing various activities together; hiking, swimming, etc. The boys chose names for their groups, The Eagles and The Rattlers, and stenciled them onto shirts and flags (Baron, Byrne 1997; Cialdini, Kenrick, Neuberg,1999 ).

At this point, the next portion of the study began. Researchers set up a four day series of competitions between the groups and promised trophies, medals, and camping knives to the winners. As the competition went on , prejudice began to become apparent between the two groups. At first, this prejudice was only verbally expressed, such as through taunting or name calling. As the competition wore on, this expression took a more direct route. The Eagles burned the The Rattler's flag. Then the next day, the Ratler's ransacked The Eagle's cabin, overturned beds, and stole private property. The groups became so aggressive with each other that the researchers physically separated them (Baron, Byrne 1997; Cialdini, Kenrick, Neuberg,1999).

During a following two day cooling off period, the boys listed characteristics of the two groups. The boys tended to characterize their group in highly favorable terms and the other group in very unfavorable terms. Sherif then attempted to reduce the prejudice between the two groups. Simply increasing the contact of the two groups only made the situation worse. Forcing the groups to work together to reach subordinate goals, or common goals, eased the prejudice and tension among the groups (Baron, Byrne 1997; Cialdini, Kenrick, Neuberg,1999). This experiment confirmed Sherif's realistic conflict theory.

Time Line
1906- Sherif born in Turkey
1927- earns B.A. at the American International College
1929- earns first M.A. at the University of Instanbul
1932- earns second M.A. at Harvard University
1935- earns Ph.D. at Columbia University, earned the Rockerfellow Fellow Award, publishes A Study of Some Social Factors in Perception
1936- publishes The Psychology of Social Norms
1937- Assistant professor of psychology at the Gaza Institute in Turkey
1939- Assistant Professor of Psychology
1944- Spends time in Jail in Turkey for outspoken opposition to the Nazi Movement, becomes professor of Psychology
1945- marries Carolyn Wood, becomes U.S. Department of State Fellow
1947- becomes resident fellow in psychology at Yale, publishes The Psychology of Ego- involvements
1948- publishes An outline of Social Psychology
1949- becomes professor at University of Oklahoma
1951- edits Social Psychology at the Crossroads
1953- edits Group Relations at the Crossroads, publishes Groups in Harmony and Tension
1954- becomes consulting professor in the school of Psychiatry
1955- promoted to director of Institute of Intergroup relations
1957- edits Emerging Problems in Social Psychology
1958- becomes visiting professor to University of Texas
1960- promoted to professor of research, and the Ford Visiting Professor at the University of Washington
1961- publishes Intergroup Conflict and Cooperation: The Robber's Cave Experiment and publishes Social Judgment: Assimilation and Contrast Effects in Communication and Attitude Change
1962- edits Intergroup Relations, and Leadership
1963- fellow and council member of APA
1964- publishes Reference groups: An Exploration of Conformity and Deviance of Adolescence and publishes Attitudes and Attitude Change
1965- earns the title of distinguished visiting professor at Pennsylvania State University, publishes Problems of Youth: Transition to Adulthood in A Changing World
1966- becomes professor of sociology, publishes In Common Prediciment
1967- earns the Kurt Lewin Memorial Award, publishes Social Interaction, Process and Products
1968- publishes Reference Scale and Placement of Items with the Own Categories Technique
1969- published Interdisciplinary Relationships in the Social Sciences
1969- publishes Social Psychology
1970- publishes On the Relevence of Social Psychology
1972- title of professor emeritus
1976- publishes Norm Change over Subject Generations as a Function of Arbitrariness of Prescribed Norms
1977- publishes Crisis in Social Psychology: Some Remarks Toward Breaking Through the Crisis
1978- Sherif dies of Heart attack

Baron, R., Byrne, D., (1997). Social Psychology, Eight Edition. Massachusettes: Allyn and Bacon.
Kinsman, C. (ed), (1975). Contemporary Authors-Permeanent Series, v1, p 574. Gale Research Inc.
Koslin, B., Sills, D. (ed), (1979). International Encycloperdia of the Social Sciences, Biographical Supplement, v18, pp 717-719. The Free Press.
Trosky, S. (ed), (1989). Contempoary Authors, v126. Gale Research Inc.
Harvey, OJ., (1989). Muzafer Sherif. American Psychologist, v44, pp 1325-1326.
Cialdini, R., Kenrick, D., Neuberg, S., (1999). Social Psychology Unraveling the Mystery, pp 403-404. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

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