Immediately after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., Professor Jane Elliott used the minimal group paradigm to perform an experiment that would teach her students about race discrimination. The minimal group paradigm has shaped an entire methodology in social psychology. Basically, you establish differences between a set of subjects in order to divide them into separate groups. This technique allows researchers to show how many different traits are necessary to create defined groups, and then analyze the subjects’ behavior within their groups.
In the 60s, the United States was in the midst of a social race crisis. Professor Jane Elliott performed a group experiment with her students that they would never forget. The idea was simple but profound. She wanted to show her students that an arbitrarily established difference could separate them and pit them against each other.
The arbitrary division among the students intensified over the course of the experiment, so much so that it actually ended in physical violence. Children often fight, argue, and sometimes hit each other, but this time they were motivated by eye color. The second day, Elliott reversed the groups. She told the students that the brown-eyed children were inferior and repeated the experiment. The results were the same.
The hate and discrimination that we see in adults have their origin in their upbringing. Society made them believe they were better than other people for arbitrary reasons such as skin color or gender.
In conclusion, Jane Elliott’s experiment demonstrates the fragility of coexistence and cooperation. It also shows how arbitrary and subjective things can turn friends, family members, and citizens against each other.