Caroline Wyatt, Experimental Psychologist at Oxford University and writer for The Oxford Scientist, joined the Caterham Psychologists on Monday to discuss The Science Behind Racism: A Psychological Approach. Her presentation covered the evolutionary, historical, psychological and social neurological explanations for racism and drew on seminal research into group formation. Pupils learned about the influential Robber’s Cave study (Sherif et al., 1961) where a group of well-adjusted twelve-year-old boys were experimentally manipulated to form in-groups and out-groups along arbitrary lines (whether they belonged to the Eagles or the Rattlers). Competing for resources (e.g. food and privileges) created intergroup conflict which could only be overcome by creating challenges that required the boys to work together to achieve a superordinate goal. This research demonstrates how intergroup conflict arises and more importantly, how it can be overcome. Caroline referred to controversial research into our perception of the ‘other’ as a homogenous group, while the group to which we identify with is seen as more heterogeneous. She explored how this idea, combined with years of systemic racism, can lead to dangerous stereotyping. Pupils brainstormed solutions for dealing with racism based on current psychological research and discussed issues with applying these solutions to the real world. While much of the research suggested that human nature makes us wired to prefer individuals belonging to our ‘in-group’, we are intelligent, complex beings capable of higher cognitive and moralistic reasoning. Caroline left us with the idea that racism can be overcome if we can create for ourselves a dual identity and see ourselves as members of not only our smaller social groups, but more importantly, members of the global human race.
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