In 1954 the American psychologist Muzafer Sherif set out to prove that hate was learned with the help of two groups of warring 11-year-olds
At the beginning of the 1950s, while William Golding was a teacher at a boys’ school in Salisbury, he took a group of pupils to the nearby iron age hill fort of Figsbury Ring. The novelist told some of the boys to attack the fort while others defended its grassy ramparts. Golding was shocked at how quickly the schoolboys morphed into ferocious warring tribes: “My eyes came out like organ stops as I watched what was happening.”
Golding’s research into “the nature of small boys” was for his novel, Lord of the Flies. It confirmed his pessimistic view that society’s problems could be traced back “to the defects in human nature”. At the same time in the US, social psychologist Muzafer Sherif was conducting very similar experiments involving groups of warring boys. Unlike the novelist, though, the scientist was an idealist. Rather than blaming human nature, he believed that environments created the conditions in which conflict and violence flourished. In short, he believed hate was learned.