The Science (and Power) of Cliques

After World War II, 6 young children who had survived a Nazi concentration camp were brought to England for treatment by researcher Anna Freud. All of these children were between ages three and four years-old. The group was comprised of three boys and three girls, none of which were blood related. All of the children had lost their parents and had been cared for and kept alive by a series of adults while living in the concentration camps. All of the adults who cared for them had also died. Most importantly, the group of 6 children had been kept together as they were hidden from the Nazi officers.


When the children were brought to the nursery they were extremely violent. They kicked, shouted, bit and spat at the nurses caring for them. However, they treated each other with extreme care and compassion. In fact their only wish was to be together. When they were separated from each other, even for a moment they became extremely upset. If one member of the group was unjustly treated in some way by an outsider, they would all stand up for that person. Judith Rich Harris who wrote about the experiment, explains that on walks they were more concerned for each other’s safety than for their own—looking to each other when crossing the street and holding low branches for each other in the woods. They waited for those who lagged behind and the larger ones carried the smaller ones coats.


The most shocking part of this story, and what almost brought me to tears reading about it, is that even though these children came to the nursery undernourished and starved, at every mealtime, they insisted on handing their food to a neighbor before feeding themselves. These famished three and four year-olds would not eat until everyone in the group had food that was split evenly.


I believe this story shows us the importance of friends. In fact, I often share it in my antibullying presentations as an example of how strong and protective our friendship bonds can be. I encourage you to share this story with the teens in your life and talk to them about how their clique can benefit and protect them, rather than gossip, bully or attack them.


This is part of our Science of Family series. If you would like to read more articles on the scientific research and studies behind relationships, families and teens, please visit our Science of Families page for tips and updated research.



Harris, Judith Rich. The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn out the Way They Do. New York: Free, 2009.


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