The term “behavioral sink” to describe aberrant behaviors in overcrowded population density situations and “beautiful ones” to describe passive individuals who withdrew from all social interaction.
John Calhoun did an experiment with mice and the only adversity was the limit on space. Initially the population grew rapidly, doubling every 55 days. The population reached 620 by day 315, after which the population growth dropped markedly. The last surviving birth was on day 600. This period between day 315 and day 600 saw a breakdown in social structure and in normal social behavior. Among the aberrations in behavior were the following: expulsion of young before weaning was complete, wounding of young, inability of dominant males to maintain the defense of their territory and females, aggressive behavior of females, passivity of non-dominant males with increased attacks on each other which were not defended against. After day 600 the social breakdown continued and the population declined toward extinction. During this period females ceased to reproduce. Their male counterparts withdrew completely, never engaging in courtship or fighting. They ate, drank, slept, and groomed themselves – all solitary pursuits. Sleek, healthy coats and an absence of scars characterized these males. They were dubbed “the beautiful ones”.
The conclusions drawn from this experiment were that when all available space is taken and all social roles filled, competition and the stresses experienced by the individuals will result in a total breakdown in complex social behaviors, ultimately resulting in the demise of the population.
Calhoun saw the fate of the population of mice as a metaphor for the potential fate of man. He characterized the social breakdown as a “second death”, with reference to the “second death” mentioned in the Biblical book of Revelation 2:11. His study has been cited by Conservative Christian writers such as Bill Perkins as a warning of the dangers of the living in an “increasingly crowded and impersonal world”.
Among other findings, he developed the concept of universal autism — in which all members of the last generation of mice in an increasingly crowded environment are incapable of normal social behaviour and that rodents rapidly developed a hierarchy when thrown together in such huge numbers, with those closest to the food supply growing most rapidly and, because of their size, assuming higher social status.
Calhoun believed that his research provided clues to the future of mankind as well as ways to avoid a looming disaster. During the 1960s, he and Dr. Leaonard Duhl formed an informal group, the Space Cadets, which met to discuss the social uses of space. The members of this group came from as diverse professions as architecture, city planning, physics, and psychiatry. In Calhoun’s own words “Our success in being human has so far derived from our honoring deviance more than tradition. Template changing always has gained a slight, though often tenuous, lead over template obeying. Now we must search diligently for those creative deviants from which, alone, will come the conceptualization of an evolutionary designing process. This can assure us an open-ended future toward whose realization we can participate.”