Solve the Mouse Utopia problem?

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I've heard a lot about John B. Calhoun's experiments in the 50's though 70's. But given the dire social implications of this, it seems strange to me that I can't find any follow up on these experiments. Wouldn't everyone look at this and want to find a solution that could be applied to human society? The results of this could apply to everything from inner city violence to mars colonies. Did anyone ever find a way to get one of these mouse populations to be stable and healthy for the mice?

Behavioral Sink - Wikipedia

No small part of this ugly barbarization has been due to sheer physical congestion: a diagnosis now partly confirmed with scientific experiments with rats – for when they are placed in equally congested quarters, they exhibit the same symptoms of stress, alienation, hostility, sexual perversion, parental incompetence, and rabid violence that we now find in the Megalopolis.
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  • #2
Drakkith
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Wouldn't everyone look at this and want to find a solution that could be applied to human society?
Certainly, but animal behavioral studies are only of limited usefulness for modeling human behavior.
 
  • #3
Laroxe
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Humans seem to enjoy a good doomsday prediction and this isn't a new predisposition, Malthusian panics were particularly popular around this time, stoked by Paul R Ehrlichs dire warnings about overpopulation. Sadly in the social sciences there has always been a body of literature that seem's to reaffirm current cultural norms and beliefs rather than represent good quality science..
The starting point is in the belief that you can model human social behaviour with rodents, humans are perhaps the most social animal on the planet and are highly interdependent. part of their evolution has involved the development of complex cultures that control social behaviours. Not only that, humans have very well developed communication skills, develop hierarchies based on alliances and some appear capable of complex cognitive skills. While there is no doubt that overcrowding can increase stress, social pressures seem to have a very controlling effect, its even suggested that humans devote more of their cognitive resources to social situations than any other type of problem. People seem willing to risk their own lives for social motives and social anxiety is particularly common.
While it may be true that many of the problems in human societies appear more common in population centres, there is little evidence that these are the product of overcrowding, there are far better explanations linked to poverty, employment and education. The problems mentioned are not really a feature of the very wealthy areas and the behaviour of the majority is controlled.
I suspect that the well mannered social scientists just quietly ignore Calhoun's work, while working to confirm the currently more fashionable social causes. Because humans are so embedded in their cultural beliefs and some social scientists are human these problems can be very difficult to avoid, even when we get some objective data that might reliably predict behaviour, once people find out they go out of their way to disrupt the predictions.
 
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  • #4
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I believe the most telling animal behavior result is still B.F Skinner's work and particularly the superstitious pigeons. Simple and direct.....now we're living it.
 
  • #5
Remember the rats themselves never declared or informed Calhoun what a "rat utopia" would include. Perhaps the human "we have the bigger brain" hubris in actuality created a "rat hell". Very little stimulus other than appropriate food and water sources were provided. Modern zoology requires enrichment for animals due to studies like this https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0049180

So I would say your question is wrong on the premise, their was no "mouse utopia" instead it was a "mouse prison" and expecting imprisoned sentient creatures to act any other way is a fault of self superiority complex.
 
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  • #6
Tom.G
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...some social scientists are human...
And the others?
 
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  • #7
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What evidence is there that the "problem" is solvable? Perhaps the situation is that you can't have everything you want, and overcrowding is inherently harmful. Presenting the notion of 'solving the problem' proposes, without evidence, that it should be possible to have intense overcrowding without many consequences which may simply be fundamental (thus inseparable) properties of overcrowding.
 
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  • #8
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Certainly, but animal behavioral studies are only of limited usefulness for modeling human behavior.
Humans seem to me to be like "animals with an extra feature". Our intelligence lets us use complex and original methods to achieve our goals. But what we ultimately want in life isn't all that different from what an animal wants. Companionship, security, ect. Animals don't respond to drugs the way we do, but animal testing is still valuable. Psychological testing isn't perfect, but it certainly ought to be considered.

humans have very well developed communication skills, develop hierarchies based on alliances and some appear capable of complex cognitive skills.
If you have ever listened to the cadences and timing of animals barking or squeaking with each other, it is usually quite similar to human speech. It is rather like we have added an extra layer on top of an existing communication structure, rather than developed something wholly new.

While it may be true that many of the problems in human societies appear more common in population centres, there is little evidence that these are the product of overcrowding, there are far better explanations linked to poverty, employment and education.
Whenever someone says "There is little evidence" the automatic next question needs to be "How much effort has been put into finding such evidence?" In the stone age, there was little evidence that the Earth was round. ["poverty, employment and education = social ills"] is a fine hypothesis but has it been tested? Did small towns a hundred years ago really have better [PE&E] then the inner cities today?

I suspect that the well mannered social scientists just quietly ignore Calhoun's work, while working to confirm the currently more fashionable social causes. Because humans are so embedded in their cultural beliefs and some social scientists are human these problems can be very difficult to avoid, even when we get some objective data that might reliably predict behaviour, once people find out they go out of their way to disrupt the predictions.
I've encountered the conspiracy theory that some people WANT human society to collapse as Calhoun's mouse populations did, (population control) and that is why it is so hard to implement simple fixes to social problems. It would sure be helpful if I could point to some contrary studies.

Remember the rats themselves never declared or informed Calhoun what a "rat utopia" would include. Perhaps the human "we have the bigger brain" hubris in actuality created a "rat hell". Very little stimulus other than appropriate food and water sources were provided. Modern zoology requires enrichment for animals due to studies like this https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0049180
That is interesting. I wonder how modern low-income neighborhoods measure by those standards?

So I would say your question is wrong on the premise, their was no "mouse utopia" instead it was a "mouse prison" and expecting imprisoned sentient creatures to act any other way is a fault of self superiority complex.
I agree. Indeed that seems to be the point of the experiment. As I said above. Animal testing is invaluable for medicine, despite its flaws. Why shouldn't we try it for architecture and social understanding?

What evidence is there that the "problem" is solvable? Perhaps the situation is that you can't have everything you want, and overcrowding is inherently harmful. Presenting the notion of 'solving the problem' proposes, without evidence, that it should be possible to have intense overcrowding without many consequences which may simply be fundamental (thus inseparable) properties of overcrowding.
Because there is only the one Earth, and reducing the population via space travel might never happen. (It certainly isn't going to happen in the next hundred years or so.) So we are right now living in one of these experiments. Why is human population leveling off now? Is it the same thing as Calhoun's experiment? There are certainly good things about population control, but knowing how to stop the collapse certainly sounds valuable to me.

Do we have a government full of "beautiful ones" today? Are we looking at the answer to the Fermi Paradox? I'm not saying that I "know" anything in these posts. But it sure seems like something worth investigating.
 
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  • #9
BillTre
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Whenever someone says "There is little evidence" the automatic next question needs to be "How much effort has been put into finding such evidence?"
I would say that in response to a "There is little evidence" statement, the next thing to do is to look for the data yourself to better support whatever it is you are advocating.
 
  • #10
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I would say that in response to a "There is little evidence" statement, the next thing to do is to look for the data yourself to better support whatever it is you are advocating.
::Starts building my own Mouse Utopia in my garage. ::
 
  • #11
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Bruce Charlton made the interesting argument that genetic degeneration was responsible. Basically, a Utopian scenario stops requiring any particular abilities, so you get a load of hipsters and poseurs instead of competent mice.

As far as environment enrichment, I doubt it matters, having owned mice. They are OK in low-stimulus environments as long as there is enough space.

Humans can look to the past for similar events. What killed off Athens and Rome? What about Angkor Wat? The Maya, Inca, and Aztec empires? Cahokia? Aksum?

What about other organizational failures, the tulip panics, and the crusades?

Why did the Mongol empire fall so early? Why do democracies tend to cook off after only two centuries and change?
 
  • #12
BillTre
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Bruce Charlton made the interesting argument that genetic degeneration was responsible. Basically, a Utopian scenario stops requiring any particular abilities, so you get a load of hipsters and poseurs instead of competent mice.
You should post a reference for this.
It sounds irrelevant to the prospects for a short term mouse colony. Loger term inbreeding is possible but it would take several generations.

As far as environment enrichment, I doubt it matters, having owned mice. They are OK in low-stimulus environments as long as there is enough space.
Laboratory standards for keeping mice have in recent years increasingly emphasized environmental enrichment to get better and more reproducible results from experiments. Link here.
Your pet mice may have gotten enrichment from you playing with them or letting them run free. Or your idea of them doing well may have been mistaken for any of a variety of reasons.

Humans can look to the past for similar events. What killed off Athens and Rome? What about Angkor Wat? The Maya, Inca, and Aztec empires? Cahokia? Aksum?

What about other organizational failures, the tulip panics, and the crusades?

Why did the Mongol empire fall so early? Why do democracies tend to cook off after only two centuries and change?
Are you saying this is all from genetic degeneration?
 
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  • #13
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You should post a reference for this.
It sounds irrelevant to the prospects for a short term mouse colony. Loger term inbreeding is possible but it would take several generations.


Laboratory standards for keeping mice have in recent years increasingly emphasized environmental enrichment to get better and more reproducible results from experiments. Link here.
Your pet mice may have gotten enrichment from you playing with them or letting them run free. Or your idea of them doing well may have been mistaken for any of a variety of reasons.


Are you saying this is all from genetic degeneration?
No offence to anyone here, but whenever someone brings up Athens or Rome falling I usually immediately tune out. Everyone is looking for some highly specific factor to say "yes, this is why Rome fell, they ate too much pie" or something like that, often to make some sort of political point about the present. I think it is very wrong to look for such a simplified reason, or a reason that covers all cases of empires falling, instead of just looking what really went wrong in relevant ways.
 
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  • #14
.Scott
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In terms of space and resources, Calhoun's Mouse Utopia had a capacity of 3000. But the population topped out at 2200. Of course, you could claim that Calhoun's standards were too low and that what he had still constituted overcrowding. The mice themselves crowded together into well-formed groups.

The case presented by Calhoun was that the main issue was that the mice were in an environment where they had no purpose. In essence, he had taken away all of their problems.

I do not think that humans are immune from this effect at all. Currently, there are three countries that stand out as having low birth rates: Russia, Germany, and Japan. In all three cases, a lack of employment opportunities for young men is normally cited as the cause - and only with Japan (98% urban, 347/Km##^{2}##) is there a strong argument for overcrowding. Germany is at 240/Km##^{2}## with 76% of its population in urban areas. Russia is 9/Km##^{2}## with 74% urbanized.

Looking at all industrialized countries, both unemployment and urbanization are factors that seem to promote low birth rates. And both of these seem to be very consistent with the mouse utopia. What purpose is employment in a utopia - where everyone can be "kept" like pets by the system. And urbanization is certainly similar to the response that the mice had - to cluster into groups.
 
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Looking at all industrialized countries, both unemployment and urbanization are factors that seem to promote low birth rates. And both of these seem to be very consistent with the mouse utopia. What purpose is employment in a utopia - where everyone can be "kept" like pets by the system. And urbanization is certainly similar to the response that the mice had - to cluster into groups.
They are not at all consistent. Urbanisation didn't happen because people just decided to cluster into groups, it happened because there was less opportunity in the countryside and in agriculture in general. Unemployment doesn't happen because we live in some sort of utopia, but for the opposite reason. Unemployment is sometimes correlated to low birth rates not because all the problems of people have been solved but again for the opposite reason, that children are expensive and unemployed people don't have the money to raise children.
 
  • #16
.Scott
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They are not at all consistent. Urbanisation didn't happen because people just decided to cluster into groups, it happened because there was less opportunity in the countryside and in agriculture in general. Unemployment doesn't happen because we live in some sort of utopia, but for the opposite reason. Unemployment is sometimes correlated to low birth rates not because all the problems of people have been solved but again for the opposite reason, that children are expensive and unemployed people don't have the money to raise children.
If unemployment (purposelessness) leads to urbanization, then Calhoun's experiment is spot on.
 
  • #17
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If unemployment (purposelessness) leads to urbanization, then Calhoun's experiment is spot on.
No, this is a misinterpretation. Unemployment and purposelessness aren't the same thing for starters. Urbanisation happens when there is a shift in a country from an agricultural to an industrial and/or service economy. It doesn't have anything to do with people having everything some extraterrestrial scientist who doesn't know all that much about people anyways decided they need. It has to do with people not having enough of what they need, it is the exact opposite of Calhoun's experiment.

I don't understand why people are so eager to model human social formations after mice experiment anyways. It's like exposing various mice to music, finding out that the mice that led less stressful and happier lives were listening to, idk, Green Day and then concluding that people should be exposed to Green Day as much as possible to live a better life.
 
  • #18
Laroxe
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I would say that in response to a "There is little evidence" statement, the next thing to do is to look for the data yourself to better support whatever it is you are advocating.
I suppose as the guilty party suggesting there is little evidence that overpopulation causes the problems, I'll add to the problem and say how much effort do we need to put into it. Calhoun identified all sorts of socially devalued forms of deviance not just population collapse. Its already been mentioned that there are centres of very high population densities. particularly in the far east, which in fact have far fewer of the problems he identified.
Its also interesting that he suggested that rats would only form groups of around 12 individuals to live in harmony, a surprisingly similar number to human extended family groups but less than might be expected in a single rat litter. Later workers suggest that rats live in territorial colonies of up to 300 individuals that's a bit of a problem for him.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3426328/
 
  • #19
jim mcnamara
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Let's do two things going forward

1. Avoid socioeconomic posts or we close this thread. @.Scott @AndreasC - if you want this kind of non-Biology discussion please create a thread in general Discussion. That will work. Remember to link citations!

2. Plus when you persist making assertions like the ones we have seen so far, no matter what forum you post it in, you really need citations. Or the thread will close. In this forum stick with Biology, and closely related topics.
@Laroxe see his post above this one is how to do it. Correctly. And it does verge on ethology.
 
  • #20
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Let's do two things going forward

1. Avoid socioeconomic posts or we close this thread. @.Scott @AndreasC - if you want this kind of non-Biology discussion please create a thread in general Discussion. That will work. Remember to link citations!

2. Plus when you persist making assertions like the ones we have seen so far, no matter what forum you post it in, you really need citations. Or the thread will close. In this forum stick with Biology, and closely related topics.
@Laroxe see his post above this one is how to do it. Correctly. And it does verge on ethology.
I understand, and I can give citations for the socioeconomic claims, however I think the thread subject is kinda problematic in that it is closer to sociology than it is to biology. The OP talked about applying the experiment's conclusions to human society, and at that point I believe it is no longer strictly a question of biology.
 
  • #21
.Scott
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The most well-known of Calhoun's papers was published in Scientific American in 1962:
Calhoun-1962
It was also widely publicised. I remember an TV interview at the time in which he showed off one of his mouse boxes - complete with high-rise apartments.

His concluding statement:
In time, refinement of the experimental procedures and of the interpretation of these studies may advance our understanding to the point where they may contribute to the making of value judgements about analogous problems confronting the human species.
John B. Calhoun was an ethologist, a science created by Charles Darwin.
This experiment stereotypical ethology. However, from the start, it was tightly tied to human Sociology.
The work was done at the US National Institute of Health.

calhounj.jpg


The photo above was included in a Smithsonian article published in 2015. It shows Calhoun in "Utopia 25", the most famous (and dystopic) of his mouse cages. Here is that article:
Smithsonian 2015
As you can see, the ties to Sociology have never let go.

Here is a video, also found in that Smithsonian article. It is not the one shown on TV in the '60's, but the first 5 minutes are similar to what was televised:
Calhoun Video

As I said earlier, and as can be seen and documented in these citations, the intended capacity of his most famous "utopia" (3000) was never reached. It capped out at 2200.
 
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