Seyienizo Assistant Professor
Department of Physics, SJC (A) Jakhama

“… what are the effects of social behavior of a species on population growth-and of population density on social behavior?” 

With such questions John B. Calhoun, an American ethologist and behavioral researcher conducted studies on the behavior of rats which popularly came to be known as “Universe 25.”

In 1947 Calhoun built a quarter acre enclosure for rats, which he called "garden of eden”, a place with abundance of food, space to live and with predation and disease eliminated. The population expanded from few individuals to many. Calhoun calculated the habitat to be sufficient to accommodate as many as 5000 rats. However, the population averagedaround 150, and throughout the two years Calhoun kept watch, it never exceeded 200. To understand this strange occurrence, he repeated the experiment under more controlled circumstances indoor: this became universe 25.

In the experiment, Universe 25, Calhoun continued his earlier study, now in specially constructed enclosure, "rodent universes." Within these enclosures, with no predators and exposure to disease kept at a minimum, Calhoun described his experimental universes as "rat utopia." With all their visible needs provided, the animals bred rapidly and their numbers multiplied. The only restriction Calhoun imposed on his population was of space. As the population grew, the mouse utopia gradually declined to a hellish overcrowded enclosure. This caused the population to fall. Through all this, unsettling and abnormal behaviours developed among the rats. 

Some Males became aggressive, even attacking females and the young. Mating behaviours were disrupted. Some males became exclusively homosexual. Others became hypersexual. While some completely withdrawn from the social interaction becoming extremely passive; this group compulsively groomed themselves and even removed themself from the sexual responsibility. Among the males the behaviour disturbances ranged from sexual deviation to cannibalism and from frenetic overactivity to a pathological withdrawal from which individuals would emerge to eat, drink and move about only when other members of the community were asleep. 

In the female population, many female rats were unable to carry pregnancy to full term or to survive delivery of their litters. And an even greater number, after successfully giving birth, fell short in their maternal functions: first failing to construct proper nests, and then carelessly abandoning and even attacking their pups. 

Further on, Universe 25 took another disturbing turn. Rats born into the chaos couldn’t form normal social bonds or engage in complex social behaviours such as courtship, mating, and pup-rearing even when removed from Universe 25 and introduced to “normal” rats. The damage seamed permanent.

These results published in a 1962 edition of Scientific American, titled “Population Density & Social Pathology,” received tremendous public popularity. In the scientific arena, the paper is one of the most cited researchpaper in Psychology and is included in the “forty studies that changed Psychology.” The availability of comparisons with human life in urban crowded areas fuelled people’s curiosity into the results of the experiment; which many quite impulsively used for making predictions towards the extinction of humanity. However varying interpretations of the study has been made over the years. It was also found in later experiments that in some of the colonies, the rats developed innovative tunnelling behavior allowing for more space, resulting in less negative social behavior. 

Now, though it presents an extremely hypothetical scenario, the analogy that one can draw to the ever-evolving contemporary modern society, ours included, makes one wonder. One shouldn’t be alarmed unnecessarily. However, one should also not stay ignorant if the other way is possible. 

Our values are our means of staying alive. Individual as well as on a communal levelthe social structure which we as a community have come to be, has its value. And we as a community that has persisted for at least a few hundred years certainly have some time-tested values. These are not to be disregarded in the face of mere modernity. At the least not so nonchalantly. And though I write this, I think I must say that the value that we give towards the display of wealth and power that was in the past hasn’t done any good for our society today Particularly because many of such displays isn’t contributing to the progress of our community. It is progress only in terms of looks, aesthetics, not much of substance or in some case misplaced roles. We witness a good number of events projecting the show culture prevailing in every sphere of our social world and unfortunately, not so rarely in the governmental institutions too. It’s everywhere. As a matter of fact, the season is almost upon us. However, it wouldn’t be fair on my part if I’m to just present that. The tendency to showcase is in human nature and I suppose it is prevalent everywhere. It is very much a requirement for progress for we know of our history.

Retrieving my words back to universe 25: pertaining to our own Naga society, there is one aspect to which my mind wonders on.

Hasn’t our society been through something similar? Some would instinctively think what I have thought. And for those others in denial, I may have been a bit extreme in my thoughts. But regardless, let’s think.

Haven’t we been fed and provided for by the Central Government. I am not accusing the government of running an experiment as such. The government sanctioned the funds in hope that maybe we would develop our economy and at a later stage begin to contribute to the economy of the country. But our economy hasn’t been much, even after this many decades of lavish donation from the center.

By lavish donations I do not mean to disregard our history of suffering and bloody tyrannical cruelty through various agencies. It was barbaric. And then there was some respite then the flow of money. And this was followed by the surge of the basic human instinct of survival and in the then present context: money and this continues. We are being fed. Quite funny I came across the phrase, MODI’S RICE. That can say a lot.

However, I do not mean to say our people do no work; our community does not progress. But what I rather mean is, maybe we are facing a certain type of stagnation or social devolution. The central government provides, we fight among ourself to get the most, the best chunk. Calhoun provided, the rats ate, lived and died and many changes took place. It isn’t an identical scenario. Those were rats. But it’s interesting, even just trying to make connection. And more so intriguing that we can do so effortlessly.

So, what’snext? Perhaps we should study a bit more; but not too seriously though. Just doing enough not to stay ignorant.

Today, quite encouragingly, we see a good number of entrepreneurs debuting in the scene of our society. This is Change. I hope this gets better. Let’s look ahead to a future where our dependent society succeeds in this phase of evolution of the social elements. A future where our society isn’t made an example of the rat utopia turned dystopia.
Universe 25, do look it up on Google or even YouTube and with focus on our own society, try to find the similarities. I hope that makes you think; and laugh too.

There are many more things I wanted to write and present a discrete comparative analysis with our prevailing practices and social behavior. But then this feeling of leaving that to each interested individual would fare much better seemed like a very good excuse for my own limitations with words.

So to end, in the later series of the experiment, some of the rats were able to tunnel out, escaping the restriction of limited space; preventing the predicted path of devolution to extinction. So, even if we may have been fed, provided and taken care of, we need not surrender our social values and ideals, there can be a tunnel. Or more rightly we can create the tunnel.