Competition. Prejudice. Discrimination. Conflict.
In 1954, a group of American boys attended a remote summer camp where they were split into two groups, and encouraged to bully, harass, and demonize each other. The results would make history as one of social psychology’s classic studies, and one of the most controversial: the Robbers Cave experiment.
Conducted at the height of the Cold War, the experiment officially had a happy ending: the boys reconciled, and psychologist Muzafer Sherif demonstrated that while hatred and violence are powerful forces, so too are cooperation and harmony. Today it is proffered as proof that under the right conditions warring groups can make peace. Yet the true story of the experiments is far more complex, and more chilling.
In The Lost Boys, Gina Perry explores the experiment and its consequences, tracing the story of Sherif, a troubled outsider who struggled to craft an experiment that would vanquish his personal demons. Drawing on both on archival material and new interviews with the subjects, now in their 70s and none aware that the summer camps they’d attended had in fact been experimental ruses, Perry pieces together a story of drama, mutiny, and intrigue that has never been told before.
‘A fascinating and finely written study of one of the best-known social experiments of the twentieth century. Through archive research and interviews with participants, Gina Perry uses her investigative flair to reconstruct the context, characters, and stakes of this strange piece of history.’
Darian Leader, author of What Is Madness?
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“When the first punch is thrown in the opening chapter, you know you’re in for a wild ride. In The Lost Boys, academic sleuth Gina Perry investigates the back story of a real-life Lord of the Flies study of human behaviour at a summer camp. The fascinating journey—which takes us through the history of psychology, Turkey, and even American summer camps—reads more like a detective novel than a psychological history book.”
Susannah Cahalan, author of the New York Times bestseller Brain on Fire
“In The Lost Boys, Gina Perry has created a meticulously-researched, skilfully crafted account of a decades-old experiment that still casts a shadow over the lives of its subjects. This is a fascinating, disturbing and utterly compelling cautionary tale about the dangers of scientific obsession.”
Michael Brooks, author of The Quantum Astrologer's Handbook
“In The Lost Boys, Gina Perry puts these extraordinary experiments under the microscope. As in her 2013 book Behind the Shock Machine, which probed psychologist Stanley Milgram’s 1960s research on obedience, she is unsatisfied with the half-truths lazily handed down in textbooks…The result is an enlightening read, and a ripping yarn.”
‘In The Lost Boys, Gina Perry returns to the terrain of morally dubious and manipulative psychological experiments.’
The Saturday Age
‘Fascinating … excellent.’
“[A] fascinating study.”
‘Mesmerising … Perry is a deeply thoughtful and empathetic writer.’
‘[F]ascinating and not a little chilling.’
‘Intriguing ... Written in an engaging style, it will fascinate both academics and casual readers alike.’
‘[Gina Perry’s] central point never loses its shock value: ‘How many psychological wounds were caused in pursuit of scientific and historical understanding?’’
Frances Ween, The Mail on Sunday
‘[A]s engrossing as a thriller.’
Des Breen, Irish Examiner
Australian Book Review
‘[An] excellent piece of non-fiction interrogating one of the most celebrated pieces of psychological research of the mid-20th century.’
‘An engrossing expose of the Robbers Cave experiment, a classic study in social psychology, was also a fine historical recreation.’
Gideon Haigh, ABR’s ‘Books of the Year 2018’
‘Touching and horrifying.’
Barnaby Crowcroft, Times Literary Supplement
‘A clear-eyed assessment of a significant chapter in the history of psychology and social science.’
‘Perry writes about Sherif’s complicated past, why he was able to carry out the test, and how the boys banded against each other at the camp. But she also digs into the theory behind it, which feels spookily relevant now: the idea that we easily pick sides based on arbitrary circumstances, and that can lead to violence.’
Outside Magazine, ‘The Best New Books of March’
‘[Perry’s] analysis of Sherif’s scientific process benefits from a distance, seeing revelations that Sherif and his staff were too close to see. It was enthralling and appalling at the same time.’
RuthAlice Anderson, Tonstant Weader