Behavioural Sink: Can Humans Live Together For Ever?

by hiba shaikh
Behavioural Sink: Can Humans Live Together For Ever?

March 1, 2021

Human behaviour, characteristics, and features have evolved for thousands of years. Interested in truly testing the future of the human race, John Calhoun conducted a research termed 'universe 25'. He began with mice and performed the experiment 25 times. It resulted in the same worrying fate of the mice population, thereby highlighting the possibility of a behavioural sink in humans.

Universe 25 is an experiment carried on by John. B Calhoun, an ethologist who tried to learn how “behavioural sinks” work. The behavioural sink is a term created by John himself, which means a collapse in behaviour due to overcrowding.

Calhoun coined the term in his report titled “Population Density and Social Pathology” on February 1, 1962. The report was subsequently published in the Scientific American and became quite popular. Till date, Calhoun’s work is seen as a touchstone of urban sociology and psychology.

Experiments in Universe 25 - Behavioural Sink

John Calhoun built a mouse paradise for experimenting behavioral sink.

In 1972, John Calhoun built a mouse paradise with unlimited food, water, and shelter in Rockville, Maryland. It was a giant box where mice were kept and nurtured. The package was separated into monumental squares and had stories like apartments where food and shelter were available.

It started with four male and four female mice, the first rodents and the masters of the paradise. They were ancestors to the later mice and were kept in the box to reproduce. Day by day, as the population was increasing, the chaos came to a point where there were 2,200 mice in the box.

Eventually, Calhoun discovered some changes taking place in their normal behaviour. They lived in the company of hundreds of mice waiting to be fed. As a result, they occasionally attacked each other.

Beginning of the Behavioural Sink

Changes in behaviour led to further psychic troubles. The pregnant female mice would forget about their babies, leaving them in danger often. They would secure a few babies and forget about the rest or abandon their babies abruptly while they were carrying them.

 Calhoun also created a separate space for the “beautiful ones”. These were usually the female mice guarded by one male. They did not fight, nor did they breed like the other mice. Only grooming, eating, and sleeping became their existence. These mice gradually started dying due to illness or other reasons.

They were spared from violence and death, but things came to a point where they weren’t interested in breeding or nurturing their young ones. Males found it challenging to secure their territory, so they gradually declined this activity. The mice found themselves being crowded and were unable to make social bonds or reproduce.

The mice became violent and deaths were seen due to illness and violence.

Consequences of Universe 25

Conditions of the experiment Universe 25 resulted in pointless violence where one mouse would kill another, and the females would kill their young ones. Homosexuality was also notable feature in these mice. The mouse society was slowly turning into chaos—it was characterised by rampant violence, cannibalism, pansexual behaviour, and immorality.

After almost two years of the experiment, there were no young survivors, and the females had no intention to reproduce anymore. Their path to extinction was clear. According to Calhoun, the mice faced two kinds of deaths, and the first was a spiritual one. It commenced their decline into chaos and violence. The second was a physical death, which was inevitable.

Universe 25 resulted in Extinction verytime

The experiment was not carried once, but twenty-five times more! All of the experiments resulted in the same havoc and extinction. In 1962, Calhoun wrote a paper called “Population Density and Social Pathology” in the Scientific American, concluding that overpopulation meant social collapse followed by extinction. The research went on for two decades. John Calhoun was sure that if these experiments can result in the same end for creatures like rodents, it would do the same for humans.

Calhoun was quoted saying, “Only force and disruption of social order can follow. Individuals born under these conditions will be so out of touch with truth and incapable of separation. Their most complicated behaviours will become fragmented. Acquisition, creation, and utilization of ideas suitable for life in a post-industrial cultural-conceptual-technological community will have been blocked.”

In the mouse experiment, overcrowding was not a problem, indistribution was and this can happen with us humans too.

Human Conditions Simulated in Mice

The fate those mice had could be ours too. Some researchers agree that overcrowding was not the problem, unfair distribution was, but who knows what the future could hold for us. With all of the problems we face today, it is possible that we can become extinct too. Although scary, there is a huge probability that this could become a reality.



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