The Big Issue : Edition 561
PHOTOFROMTHEDRSNICHOLASANDDOROTHYCUMMINGSCENTERFORTHEHISTORYOFPSYCHOLOGY,THEUNIVERSITYOFAKRON;ILLUSTRATIONSBYiSTOCK. other, into two groups. He then pitted them against one another and observed their behaviour. Perry soon uncovered something disturbing. “I did assume that I would contact these boys, now men, and we would talk and they would tell me about what the experiment was like and what they felt about it,” she says. So she was shocked to discover that the boys had never been told that the camp was an experiment in the more than 50 years since. “I’d blundered into something that I wasn’t prepared for, they weren’t prepared for, and in a way I felt a sense of responsibility to them.” Many of the men had harboured long-held suspicions about the strange adults who had supervised them as boys, and a few even figured out at the time that they were being observed and recorded. Those suspicions had never been confirmed until now. “I think there was a big element of “I’d blundered into something that I wasn’t prepared for, they weren’t prepared for, and in a way I felt a sense of responsibility to them.” self-interest in Sherif’s treatment of the children,” Perry says. Put simply, he didn’t want their parents to know what was going on. Now, she believes the men she spoke with were ultimately relieved to learn the truth. “Most of them recalled that summer camp with a sense of uneasiness or a lack of resolution, so I think in that sense, talking to me did answer questions.” Originally from Turkey, Sherif witnessed violent civil war and conflict throughout his lifetime. He later went on to study in the US and then Berlin, where he witnessed firsthand the rise of Hitler and Nazism before returning to the US. Though brilliant, Sherif was also a notoriously difficult and complicated character with many demons. Perry describes him as “a man of contradictions”. His belief in his role as scientist was “unshakeable” she says, adding that, if asked, he would undoubtedly argue that the findings from the experiment justified what the boys went through. The experiments made his reputation and confirmed his theory that cooperation and common goals could bring peace between conflicting groups. With her first book, Behind the Shock Machine, Perry made a name for herself by uncovering details and revealing hidden layers behind Stanley Milgram’s famous electric shock experiments of the 1960s, in which the subject was told to administer a shock to a man in the next room when he answered questions incorrectly. Perry hopes to provide her readers with “the historical and the cultural context in which the experiments take place, so that we can make better judgements about the conclusions that we draw from them and our acceptance of them as facts”. But how we approach these experiments and their contributions to psychology as a discipline needn’t mean erasing them from the textbooks altogether. “These kinds of experiments have helped validate social psychology... Helped it to define particular areas of study and also to stake a claim in particular conclusions about human nature and people in social situations,” Perry argues. And perhaps just as importantly, boys involved in the bizarre Robbers Cave experiment more than six decades ago have read the book – and they are happy that, finally, the truth about Robbers Cave is out there. by Angela Elizabeth (@AngelizabethAU) » The Lost Boys is out now.