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Overcrowded Conditions

A research psychologist at the National Institute of Mental Health was convinced he could prove his theory from a cage full of mice. His name? Dr. John Calhoun. His theory? Overcrowded conditions take a terrible toll on humanity. Dr. Calhoun built a nine-foot square cage for selected mice. He observed them closely as their population grew. He started with eight mice. The cage was designed to contain comfortably a population of 160.

He allowed the mice to grow, however, to a population of 2200. They were not deprived of any of life’s necessities except privacy—no time or space to be all alone. Food, water, and other resources were always clean and in abundance. A pleasant temperature was maintained. No disease was present. All mortality factors (except aging) were eliminated. The cage, except for its overcrowded condition, was ideal for the mice. The population reached its peak at 2200 after about two-and-a-half years. Since there was no way for the mice to physically escape from their closed environment, Dr. Calhoun was especially interested in how they would handle themselves in that overcrowded cage. Interestingly, as the population reached its peak, the colony of mice began to disintegrate. Strange stuff started happening. Dr. Calhoun made these observations:

1. Adults formed natural groups of about a dozen individual mice.

2. In each group each adult mouse performed a particular social role…but there were no roles in which to place the healthy young mice, which totally disrupted the whole society.

3. The males who had protected their territory withdrew from leadership.

4. The females became aggressive and forced out the young…even their own offspring.

5. The young grew to be only self-indulgent. They ate, drank, slept, groomed themselves, but showed no normal aggression and, most noteworthy, failed to reproduce. After five years, every mouse had died. This occurred despite the fact that right up to the end there was plenty of food, water, and an absence of disease. After the research psychologist reported on his experiment, a couple of significant questions arose.

Q: “What were the first activities to cease?”

A: “The most complex activities for mice: courtship and mating.”

Q: “What results would such overcrowding have on humanity?”

A: “We would first of all cease to reproduce our ideas, and along with ideas, our goals and ideals. In other words, our values would be lost.”

Swindoll, Quest For Character, pp. 35-36

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