Summer Camp, Group Dynamics, and Seeing Beyond Your Group

One of Mitt Romney’s go-to economists, Greg Mankiw of Harvard, explores the value of surrounding yourself with difference, the monumental task of achieving comity, and implications for finding a way out of the Washington budget crisis, with differing world views on Obamacare:

A classic result in social psychology, called the Robber’s Cave experiment, sheds light on the current dysfunctional political dynamic. It was conducted in 1954 by the psychologist Muzafer Sherif.
Mr. Sherif took a group of 22 boys, 12 years old, to a summer camp in Robber’s Cave State Park in Oklahoma. The boys did not know one another but came from similar backgrounds. They were all being raised in white, middle-class, Protestant, two-parent families. The boys were randomly split into two groupsvia From Summer Camp, A Parable for Washington

What can we infer–as explained by Mankiw? When faced with a super ordinate goal (finding food, shelter, or other necessity that equally impacted both groups) a participant might put aside their particular groups’ goals.


4 thoughts on “Summer Camp, Group Dynamics, and Seeing Beyond Your Group”

  1. We can’t rely on our government officials to always like each other, but we should expect them to be able to work together for the common good. Idealy, our government officials were elected to create a better America. But I personally believe that ideological factions are so deeply rooted that cooperation is no longer an option. I think a change is desperately needed for progress to be achieved.

  2. I have read many articles about this topic lately, and most of them point out one major problem which I agree with: ideological factions are self-reinforcing. Libertarians listen to the Blaze. Republicans watch Fox News. Democrats read the NY Times. Liberals view MSNBC. And each of these (with the exception, I would argue, of the NY Times) sells itself as the only true way of looking at a particular situation or more generally, life. And it is not only news sources that reinforce world views. Congressmen/women are often supported by like-minded think tanks and lobby groups. Gerrymandering decreases diversity. Reasonable, mid-ground Republicans are labelled as traitors and liberals. And the consequences of immediate contact with constituents allows Congressmen/women to detract their competition more easily and virulently than ever before.
    All that said, I do not have a clear idea of how to fix the situation. Perhaps, as the article obliquely suggested, have Congressmen/women switch parties every so often. However, that would probably just created huge divisions within parties because it does not force one to change their ideological beliefs. It only changes the label on a person. I believe that in order to stop the polarization, Washington is somehow going to have to undergo a paradigm shift that humanizes the other party. If libertarians didn’t believe that Obama and his Democrats were out to tear down the country and the constitution by passing Obamacare, but that he was rather honestly trying to help Americans out by cutting healthcare costs, a much happier medium could have been reached before Obamacare was even passed. But they were so opposed to anything like social healthcare that they ended up with a bill that they completely hate, rather than mostly hate.
    Libertarians are not the only ones guilty of an inability to compromise their ideals, they are just the most recent example of it. Congress, and America as a whole, must accept that maybe the other party is quite as crazy or bent on the destruction of America as they think the other is.

  3. The monumental task of achieving comity is monumental because it go against the competitive selfish nature of mankind. In Mr. Sherif’s research, the boys were separated during the first week of the camp, and that can be directly connected to what Jake Dayton wrote so well about the major problems in Washington, ideological factions are separated in news, friends, and support. This separation in Washington causes a crippling effect. It seems the leaders of both parties in Washington are separated in purpose. Greg Mankiw writes a great piece. He has a unique perspective because he grew up Republican (separated from Democrats), but he works side-by-side with Democrats on a daily basis. Therefore, he has had the opportunity to work with both parties in the pursuit of the same goal, and that has been positive for him.
    On the Jimmy Kimmel show they go out into the streets and ask people which health care act they like better the Affordable Health Care Act or Obamacare (trick question: they are the same). Anyways many people, out of ignorance, react negatively toward the title Obamacare and at the same time make positive remarks about the Affordable Care Act. The point is, most Americans have good intentions, but they are separated and they struggle to work together.

  4. This was an interesting article but I’m not sure how it can be applied to politics in Washington. One point the writer makes is that when there is a common goal that transcends traditional party differences, comity can be achieved. Cannot solving the problem of the government shutdown and debt crisis be considered a common goal that requires the cooperation of both parties? The problem is not the type of policies that should be made but the manner in which republicans and democrats work with each other. If both sides could learn to see things from each other’s perspective, then real negotiations could happen and compromises could be made.

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