Tajfel Saved My Team

Today I will be teaching a class entitled, How To Lead A SuperCamp. I’ve had a lot of experience in leading and directing youth camps and will be sharing some of what I know with students at our University.

One of the really fun elements of this class will be talking about Minimal Group Theory (MGT). This theory was developed by a British, social psychologist named Henry Tajfel. I didn’t really know anything about MGT while I was directing camps, but as I look back I can see it’s amazing effects.

Wikipedia explains it this way…

Tajfel is perhaps best known for his minimal groups experiments. In these studies, test subjects were divided arbitrarily into two groups, based on a trivial and almost completely irrelevant basis. Participants did not know other members of the group, did not even know who they were, and had no reason to expect that they would interact with them in the future. Still, members of both groups began to identify themselves with their group, preferring other members of their group and favoring them with rewards that maximized their own group’s outcomes.

What’s so amazing about this social phenomenon is that it works 99% of the time.

So when a student arrives at a camp, one of the first things that we do is to place him or her onto a team of other students. They need to create a name for their team, a symbol that represents their team, and accomplish some type of task together. Once that happens, MGT has kicked in and now they feel a sense of belonging and connectedness to other students that they didn’t feel when they walked onto the campground.

I will often demonstrate this theory when I’m training people by simply dividing the room in half. I will say, “Those on the right side are Team A. Those on the left are Team B.” Then I will pause for a brief moment and then ask this simple question: “Which team is better?”

Immediately, the teams will respond and attempt to demonstrate why their perspective team is better. I tell you, this is uncanny.

This is incredibly helpful for my work with students on our campus. I know that their college experience will be much more fulfilling and meaningful if I can find ways for them to connect with a group of people. Students will be much more willing to get involved when they feel included.

How can you see Minimal Group Theory at work in your environment?

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