Superordinate goals

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Superordinate goals, in psychology, are where two or more people or groups must be involved to achieve a specific goal. Muzafer Sherif (1954) performed a study at a camp involving two groups of boys, the Eagles and the Rattlers, that were in opposition to one another in a zero-sum situation. The opposing groups had strong negative feelings towards each other, resulting in hostile actions such as 'garbage wars'.

Sherif was able to successfully bring these two groups together by using superordinate goals, such as solving the problems of a breakdown of the water supply and the breakdown of a food delivery truck. The cumulative effect of these incidents was friendship formation across group boundaries. On the last day, both groups elected to ride home together on the same bus.


Sherif, M., Harvey, O.J., White, B.J., Hood, W.R., & Sherif, C.W. (1961) Intergroup Conflict and Co-operation: The Robbers Cave Experiment. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Book Exchange.