The Mouse Utopia Experiments | Down the Rabbit Hole


[Music] of the strange research to come out of mid 1900s America there is little with the legacy as enduring or as terrifying as the mouse utopia experiments taking place throughout the 50s 60s and early 70s the grim fate of the subjects was published in the national magazines Scientific American and the experiments themselves were largely taken as apocalyptic portents in a post-war United States the language used to describe the results such as behavior sync became synonymous with fears of an overpopulated world and violent deviant behavior in cities today they are preserved within fiction such as Channel 4’s conspiracy thriller utopia and the classic animated movie the secret of NIMH so what word the mouse utopia experiments shortly after world war ii a group known collectively as the environmentalists were making a large push to prevent environmental degradation as well as over exploitation of the planet’s renewable resources among these people were a group specifically known as the neo Malthusian ‘he’s a term referring to the 18th and 19th century english scholar Thomas Robert Malthus Malthus proposed that while the world’s population may increase exponentially food production can only increase linearly leading to an eventual subsistence level existence for the human race that became known as a Malthusian catastrophe while advancements such as the Green Revolution saw that this didn’t come about the Neo Malthusian zyc knowledged his concerns about overpopulation and feared that this pattern would result in the collapse of civilization or at best have extreme adverse effects these fears were given a platform in writing of the time especially in works such as William folks Road to survival in 1948 and perhaps most famously Silent Spring by Rachel Carson in 1962 both or the movement’s explosion of popularity in the 50s and 60s however researchers had already begun work investigating the effects of population growth and among them was a man named John B Calhoun born in 1917 Calhoun took an early interest in science specifically ornithology publishing his first paper on birds when he was 15 but over time his interest would change by the time he received his PhD his focus had turned to ethology the study of animal behavior when his education was concluded he moved with his family to Towson Maryland to begin research at John Hopkins University in nearby Baltimore but the research itself would be conducted much closer to home in 1947 shortly after he arrived he approached his neighbor about using some of their neglected property for an experiment the scope would be massive and according to Calhoun his neighbor probably didn’t expect such a scale when they agreed to let him use the forested area taking over a quarter of an acre calhoun constructed a massive habitat complete with food water ample shelter and protection from predators with the only limiting condition being their restriction to the quarter acre living space he affectionately provided his enclosure a name rat city unfortunately no publicly available images of rat city exist calhoun was very familiar with Norway rats having performed research on them for his doctorate and the estimated that rat City could sustain approximately 5,000 individuals though if they reach this number the population density would be tight he began by placing five pregnant females in the enclosure providing ample genetic diversity and soon the population was increasing exponentially but then something surprising happened rather than the population increasing to fill the space of the enclosure it quickly leveled off at 150 members he also noted some behavioral peculiarities despite the large size of rat City the residents seemed to gather around just a few places forming social groups of 12 and limiting themselves to specific feeding locations he would conclude the experiment after two years and four months during which the population never grew over 200 careful observation revealed the cause high infant mortality for some reason as the experiment progressed and the population increased the mothers were not caring for their young properly leading to most of them dying before reaching maturity Calhoun had his theories as to why this was but to prove them he would need more data in 1954 about five years after his initial experiment concluded he was hired by the National Institute of Mental Health often shortened to NIMH within the laboratory of psychology Calhoun was given ample resources to continue his work with a team he began feverishly designing and constructing habitats sometimes referred to as universes where he performed numerous smaller scale and more controlled versions of his original rat study on a domesticated strain of albino Norway rat these rats would want for nothing all physical needs for a healthy rat lifestyle would be provided for them including food water climate control and nesting material calhoun spent eight years perfecting his enclosures and methods until finally in February of 1962 an article of his writing was published in the magazine Scientific American the article was entitled population density and social pathology his opening paragraph ominously reads so quote in the celebrated thesis of Thomas Malthus vice and misery imposed the ultimate natural limit on the growth of populations students of the subject have given most of their attention to misery that is to predation disease and food supply as forces that operate to adjust the size of a population to its environment but what a vice setting aside the moral burden of this word what are the effects of the social behavior of a species on population growth and of population density on social behavior unquote to answer this question he cited six of his experiments in particular all with similar composition and concerning Lee similar results the design of these habitats was simple the layout was a rectangle measuring ten feet by fourteen feet divided into four equal sections by electric fences three of these fences sported bridges over which the rats could climb while one fence lacked such a bridge essentially creating one long space that wrapped in on itself each section was equipped similarly with a food hopper water and nesting areas accessible by spiral staircases but Calhoun leveraging his experience with the rats made special change to encourage specific behaviors he enticed the rats use one of the center pens by making the spiral staircase to that pens living spaces shorter than the others though he admits this was a comparatively small factor but the more insidious change was to their food supply in half of the experiments Calhoun’s supplied powdered food but in the other half he placed feeders of his own design consisting of hard pellets behind a wire mesh half of his experiments began with 32 mice the other half with 56 of evenly male and female composition and all having just reached maturity Calhoun estimated that approximately 40 rats could comfortably be housed in these enclosures but he would allow these populations to increase to 80 before he would call them almost immediately after introduction things began to go awry the females unsurprisingly spread themselves out somewhat evenly through the pens but after the male’s jockey for dominance and those of highest rank were determined they began to distribute themselves strangely less dominant male rats will typically awaken earlier and begin to wander and forage for food and due to the design of the pen this meant that they usually would end up in the center sections to eat during this time the dominant males of the outer pens would wake up and begin guarding their respective territories since there was only one entrance ramp to either end the dominant males of either pen would bar the return of the less dominant males forcing the male population to clump in the center pens while the dominant end males protected what came to be their harems only a few other deferential males were allowed to remain these few remaining males began exhibiting odd behavior though they would spend most of their time in the burrows with the females hiding away from the dominant male they would never attempt to mate with any of them instead perplexingly they would try to mate with the dominant male and even more perplexing the dominant male would not fight these attempts at the same time as this was happening the effect of Calhoun’s special feeders was taking hold since procuring food was such a lengthy process at the hard food feeders it was common for one rat to join another while in the process of feeding by this method the rats slowly became conditioned to eating in the company of other rats until eventually rats would refuse to eat unless another rat was present since more rats tended to be in the center pens this behavior meant that over time more and more rats made their way there further condensing them this heightened the proximity of an already cramped population in the experiments with the powdered food this effect was far less pronounced with these factors combined Calhoun noted what he called a behavioral sink or an increase in pathological activity in the rats due to the stress involved in such high population density for the females the behavioral sink manifested in reduced capacity for nest building and young rearing infant rats are extremely dependent upon their mothers for nearly all things however under the effects of the behavioural sink the mothers would often be interrupted in their nest building practices to engage in some other social activity as time wore on this led to sparser nests which could not house the young properly if a mother decided to move her litter she often would only move some of them or scatter them about the pen in separate locations what’s more when female rats are ready to mate the male’s can sense it and the enclosed space meant that a female could not escape the continuous advances of the male’s during these periods even when they would enter their nests for a reprieve they would be followed in and harrowed these factors together resulted in an extremely high infant mortality rate in one case reaching 96% for the male’s this manifested in different ways the dominant males would occasionally lash out in violence against the other members of the pen including infants often biting and wounding their tails among the lower-class males were three groups the first he described as the homosexuals which he immediately corrects as pansexuals who would not compete for status but would often attempt to mate with any other rat regardless of gender or age much like in the end pens these advances went unchallenged the second group he described as somnambulists who moved slowly through the pen without interacting with other individuals in any fashion and the other rats in turn ignored them except in rare circumstances these rats externally he described as fat sleek and healthy-looking to him the strangest group was the third which he named the probers these rats were hyperactive hyper sexual and pansexual despite violence from the dominant males they would viciously pursue females in heat chewing any sort of courtship ritual and following them into their burrows to mate later on in the experiments they would often find the corpses of the improperly cared-for young which they would cannibalize in time one of Calhoun’s assistants would publicly describe these pens as hell at this point Calhoun ended the experiments but he predicted that these pathological changes would have eventually led to the deaths of the colonies at their conclusion he would take the four healthiest males and females and allow them to breed but their behavior had been so inexorably altered that none of their pups survived beyond weaning this short article enraptured it’s us audience and the effects on both the scientific world and popular culture were immediate people began to relate Calhoun’s rat experiments to modern city life and in an era where fear of social deviance was reaching an extreme high it was largely seen as a reflection of the current time and where society could be heading egged on by Calhoun’s provocative language and allegorical design of his test environment made to look like a city population density quickly became a common topic psychologist Carl Rogers in his work some social issues which concern me stated that quote the resemblance to human behavior is frightening in humans we see poor family relationships the lack of caring the complete alienation the magnetic attraction of overcrowding the lack of involvement which is so great that it permits people to watch a long drawn-out murder without so much as calling the police perhaps all city dwellers are inhabitants of a behavioral sync unquote soon after studies of dense urban environments were conducted to see if these effects translated directly to humans but what they found was inconclusive and unsatisfying despite the suggestions of Calhoun’s rats humans and cities reacted differently or sometimes opposite the manner that researchers expected depending on the location no matter how they tried no evidence of a widespread behavioral sync could be found in urban areas but this did not dissuade Calhoun even as others explored the problem of overcrowding Calhoun frantically continued his research now a celebrated success and emboldened by the public acceptance of his ideas he resumed his work at NIMH on an even larger scale though again away from the public eye he spent his time on new subjects as he continued to perfect his enclosures and experiments until finally after 11 years calhoun revealed his magnum opus through an article he entitled death squared which was published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine in January of 1973 the lengthy opening to this article was undeniably apocalyptic Calhoun wrote I shall largely speak of mice but my thoughts are on man on healing on life and its evolution threatening life and evolution are the two deaths death of the spirit and death of the body evolution in terms of ancient wisdom is the acquisition of access to the Tree of Life unquote he goes on to heavily reference revelations and of the riders of the Apocalypse using them to proclaim that the Hippocratic oath applies not only to the body but to the spirit after this dramatic introduction he described his tests for the most part these new experiments were similar to his 1963 trials including unlimited access to food and water protection from the elements and predators and safeguards against disease many parts however were drastically altered as Calhoun mentions in his introduction the Norway rats used in his first publicized experiments were replaced with albino house mice which were taken from a breeding group from the National Institutes of Health made specifically to prevent communicable disease to fit his new subjects Calhoun had designed an entirely new enclosure this version was much more vertical with 16 wall-mounted housing areas for the rats at the tops of long metal tubes which Calhoun called walk-up apartments at the bottom of each apartment was a virtually unlimited supply of food water and nesting material with the space provided calhoun estimated that it could potentially hold 3840 mice he named this enclosure universe 25 Calhoun’s methods also had changed rather than instituting population controls he would interfere far less his plan was to place eight mice in the enclosure for male and four female and simply watch and wait calhoun observed four distinct phases in the ensuing experiment phase a was predictable constituting the time period before the first new mice were born which ended up being 104 days for the mice these days were quote marked by considerable social turmoil after the social order was established and the first brood was born the population began phase B which Calhoun named the exploitation phase during this time the mice doubled in number every 55 days as new young grew to maturity and had their own young this doubling continued until day 315 which the doubling rate slow to a rate of 145 days nearly three times as long by this point the different broods had clumped into one side of the pen exhibiting the same sort of clumping as the Norway rats but this time without any coaxing from Calhoun’s designs this change in the rate of procreation marked phase C which Calhoun labelled as the stagnation phase this is when the most notable events occurred and they eerily mirrored Calhoun’s rat experiments in a natural setting those mice which find no social niche will leave the colony but in this experiment emigration was impossible and so those forced to remain withdrew from society these dejected males formed a large pool in the center of the enclosure they quickly became characterized by both their inactivity and their many scars and wounds occasionally they would grow agitated and attack one another and with nowhere to retreat the recipient of these attacks would simply lay still and endure the assault the outcast females rather than joining them would retreat to the highest apartments and live quietly among one another it was during this time that the behavioral sync manifested with mice gathering around specific food hoppers in large numbers while others remained almost entirely untouched showing how again the need for social interaction had become so intertwined with the need for food that the former had overtaken the latter the males who had won the initial fights also were placed under extreme stress as more and more mice reached maturity from within and without the leaders of the social groups continually had to patrol and defend their territory eventually they reached the point of exhaustion and could not defend the females within their group these females were therefore forced to defend the nest themselves even when nursing their young leading to generalized aggressive behavior this aggression would inevitably be misdirected onto their young who would be wounded by their mothers and forced to leave the nest before they were finished weaning much like the rats the mother mice would also forget some of their young when moving from one nesting site to another due to the added stress of defending their territory sometimes the mothers would reabsorb unborn mice in the womb further reducing the fertility rates calhoun writes for all practical purposes there had been a death of societal organization by the end of phase C finally there was phase D which Calhoun entitled the death phase this phase was characterized largely by an entire generation of young who had been rejected by their mothers early and forced to leave the nest and they were therefore unable to exhibit normal social behavior this manifested in numerous ways the females of this generation had far fewer children and those that did have children lacked the maternal instincts necessary to raise them beyond weaning Calhoun goes on to describe the male’s of this generation quote male counterparts to these non reproducing females were soon dubbed the beautiful ones they never engaged in sexual approaches toward females and they never engaged in fighting and so they had no wound or scar tissue thus their pellet remained in excellent condition their behavioral repertoire became largely confined to eating drinking sleeping and grooming none of which carried any social implications beyond that represented by contiguity of bodies unquote as the last mice with reproductive instincts aged beyond their fertility Calhoun declared that the last male would die around a 1780 of the experiment effectively rendering the colony dead as it would be unable to produce any more young his present tense language implied that when the article was published the colony was still technically alive though its final fate was practically sealed Calhoun closed his article with a call to action for an animal so complex as man there is no logical reason why a comparable sequence of events should not also lead to species extinction if opportunities for role fulfillment fall far short of the demand by those capable of filling roles and having expectancies to do so only violence and disruption of social organization can follow individuals born under these circumstances will be so out of touch with reality as to be incapable even of alienation their most complex behaviors will become fragmented acquisition creation and utilization of ideas appropriate for life in a post-industrial cultural conceptual technological society will have been blocked just as biological in the mouse involves this species most complex behaviors sodas ideational generativity for mam loss of these respective complex behaviors means death of the species [Music] but even as Calhoun was performing his research on mice others had been at work applying his theories to humans by this point researchers had moved to more specific locations of overcrowding rather than the generalized location of cities testing the effects on students in dormitories and patients at hospitals but the most fruitful example they discovered was in prisons Paul Paulus from the University of Texas wrote that prisons were the perfect place for this sort of study describing the social interaction between inmates as intense prolonged inescapable and realistic the prison in the study also offered the closest analogue to Calhoun’s rat experiments since the prisoners could not escape the company of others even in their communal cells there they found connections between over socialization and suicide violence psychopathy and stress after such studies environmental psychologists began to discover the problem they identified two different kinds of density physical density and social density physical density was the amount of space per person while social density was the number of individuals occupying a space they found that social density was the much more important factor as individuals in high social density were unable to control their interactions with others based on this research human environments could be designed to at least partially mitigate these issues allowing those living within them the privacy they needed to maintain healthy social interaction outside of scientific discourse Calhoun’s rhetoric has maintained its strength through the years with different groups of all political persuasions bending his results to support their views on social degradation however they may define it among more scholarly sources Calhoun has been both lauded and criticized for his work those who support him cite his forward thinking about overpopulation while those who deride him cite his misrepresentation of the actual social problems within cities guiding discourse away from the true causes of societal discord but no matter what those in the modern day think of his research his influence on the way America views its cities is undeniable [Music] [Music] you

100 thoughts on “The Mouse Utopia Experiments | Down the Rabbit Hole

  1. lol rats under normal circumstances will hump other rats of the same sex, including females, and it's advised to separate the young from the mother when they're weaned anyway – at least the males, because they will try to mate with their own mother basically right away.

  2. I'm sorry, but I have a serious question. 5 pregnant females does not mean sufficient genetic diversity. In fact that is critically low for two or three generations. That is, if the rats actively search for non-related partners. If you have simple randomness, 20% of all mating will be between brother sister relationships even in the first generation. There is no way this gross lack of genetic diversity to not have adverse impacts.

    Additionally, he does not take into account the issues with natural territorialism. Teen manipulations in my opinion it seemed to go how can I drive these rats insane far more than making any meaningful point about psychology. I know that they were inspired by this but it reminds me very much of the Fallout vaults

  3. Calhoun's experiments tell us far more about human evolution than he intended, I think. He created an ideal environment for sociopaths, where humans lacked simple empathy for living beings. Calhoun, the "dominant" male, of course had to make sure that anyone who felt like saving the rats would be nowhere near his controversial experiment. He shut out anyone capable of STOPPING HIM. The observational bias of his experiments render them invalid – a cruel sociopathic god set the rules, then read the results through his own warped beliefs and values, while his assistants stood by and did nothing. Calhoun determined the "healthier, cleaner" rats were superior and chose them as breeders, even though they showed no interest in mating. That shows a complete and total lack of empathy, because he could not understand why they were miserable.

  4. Well there are a few flaws with this experiment right off the bat. I think any social animal would break down quickly if there wasn’t any sort of stimuli. There’s no toys or really anything to do, so I think it’s only expected that they would break down pretty quickly. Another thing, humans have the ability to think and build a purpose for themselves. Rats/mice don’t. If a creature lives simply to live, with all things needed for their survival provided to them at all times, I think it’s obvious that life would lose its purpose. Humans, however, can decide their purpose and what goals they’d like to achieve and whatever difference they want to see. I feel like these flaws completely skew how much you can compare these experiments to human overcrowding and population density

  5. I wouldn't extrapolate any of this social disorder to apply to people living in crowded cities. There are too many factors involved which influence people and city life, or even the dynamics between neighbors and landlords in a single building. Furthermore, I'm not sure how much it reveals about rats; I think it speaks most about the man who would design such an experiment. I DO know about some of the aspects of the Norway rat which make him a popular research subject, and that is a large part of what makes this set-up for them extremely cruel- far moreso than using the mice. Neither is prison an adequate stand-in for everyday conditions: I don't know if prisons back then were better or worse than they are now, but being constantly antagonized, or intimidated, or treated like a rabid animal isn't something most free people in the city will experience on a daily basis, regardless of how crowded it is. (Unless you're a kid, maybe?) I could see why these experiments acquired some infamy! In true midcentury fashion, a lot of suffering over dubious science seems to have yielded- predictably- very little useful information. *Rat Tip: If YOU wish to experience the fun and love of a pet "fancy rat," GET TWO. They do actually need a buddy-rat or they will get sick. That is how sensitive and social these bright, adaptable rodents are! (Just get two of the same sex.) They are much friendlier, smarter, and less stinky (esp. pee) than pretty much any other rodent pet- I speak from experience, and as someone who does love animals in general.

  6. This is all bullshit campair the sive or man to the size of mice and earth and scale that u will see different results

  7. Dear men who think alpha/beta males are a thing: some women really like submissive men, and the fact that y’all are out here acting like all men need to be alphas just makes us hot dommes hate you more and make us never want to even CONSIDER sleeping with you.

    Signed,
    A switch bitch with domme tendencies tired of having to explain what that means to every guy on tinder.

  8. Now repeat it but add alcohol dispensers just a few of them and see if some become alcoholic or if some turn to alcohol when population sky rockets. That’d be real interesting

  9. The day we all died is when fathers abandon their children and their mothers distanced themselves from them. All to be replaced by their distractions and consumerism.

  10. While flawed it is definitely easy to draw parallels of this experiment and our own. For this I do agree with the hypothesis of the experiment and understand all the better why I hate cities and choose to live in a small village in a house with plenty of space for a family of 5 even though their is only two.

  11. This just makes me annoyed that I’m female. Raped relentlessly and forced to watch young die while the males run around worrying who has the biggest dick. If this happens to humans on this scale of anarchy, I’m out, just commit suicide

  12. This experiment has been reproduced thousands of times across america, only using cats instead of rats. Old single ladies start with one or two pregnant females, give them food shelter, and protection from predators the only limitation being the size of the house.

  13. Interesting comments from folks below.

    It would be interesting to repeat the experiment adding some leisure activities for the animals, like wheels. Basically this would be apocalypse for a society like that of Mennonites.

  14. And here we are, killing ourselves with vices gallore. It is not just a human condition it seems.
    Edit: to me, the "probers" class of the beta males can be compared (by similar behavior) with our current male "incels" and mass shooters.

  15. So the reason we have faggots is because our society is too big and there are too many dominant males. Lmfao

  16. First time I've heard of this….I heard the movie "Secret of Nimh," (which I've seen) had a kinda back story 2 it. But I had know idea…… Very interesting. Mmmmmm…. Yea. 🔥

  17. What's creepy is that this is sorta happening now… there is a noticeable influx in people that want nothing to do with others, women are getting a lot more aggressive, and there are a lot more lgbt people. I don't know if it's population related or just because society is more supportive of these things but i think it's kinda cool to see how such old experiments relate to today

  18. sooooo limited space plus unlimited sustenance equals passive hikikomori and mothers who don't care about their young.

    Hmm.

    Hmm.

  19. Population control would be a natural phenomenon I'd say and food/water are getting scarse so definitely food for thought (pun). Making the male" uninterested" would work but what about his DNA screaming at him… reproduce.. reproduce.. reproduce?

  20. ad: tired of american girls? then go to ukraine
    Unlimited "supply" of beautiful, thin, Compliant Females

    wtf ad, wtf

  21. I’ve fallen so far down the YouTube rabbit hole that I ended up on a YouTube series called “Down the Rabbit Hole”

  22. Life under capitalism. There's one person, or 1 percentage of persons', interests to fullfill. The smartest creature provided for labour will not organize to escape, but have their own interests in this environment. The temptation of what you can get away with is strong and if Epstein, among many, proved anything, there are no morals at the top. Pedophiles, rapists and killers with the odd semi normal greedy person just hoarding wealth and experiencing life with as little as drugs as a vice.
    While those below and abroad suffer to keep things going.
    (Inb4 the usual anti-socialist shit. Go watch Vaush, Non-compete, innuendo studios, etc. if you find yourself compelled to spill propaganda at me. Nothing can challenge lived experience. I'm not happy at all the more I grow and learn.)

  23. Turns out overpopulation does lead to violent and deviant behavior in cities.

    It just took a few decades to reach peak degeneracy.

  24. Well, this explains why politics have gone to shit.. After WW2 people started fucking like crazy, we have now overpopulated the Earth, almost everyone are frying pan-sexual triple gender homos and everything is collapsing in a frightening speed. All that is left is the inevitable apocalypse. Maybe the preppers aren't stupid after all as people say. Maybe I'll join them.

  25. This test has probably happened with humans and might still be in progress. Considering governments will put "the greater good" over morals or loss I bet this is an on going test purely because those said governments would be able to get a rough date on how long humans have on earth or possibly how long until we fall into all out war again. And that would be a powerful tool for surviving.

  26. But…what if he put little red “MAGA Hats” on one side and Communist Manifestos on the other? 😛

    I know, bad and tasteless but why not play it anyway?

    Very interesting and something to thing about when you look at human society of late, especially in the UK and America.

  27. This is paralleled in the world today, more and more groups breaking from society. With many women killing the unborn and society as a whole supporting the abuse of the young.
    We are on a ticking time bomb, it’s only kept in check with a stream of media and flashing lights that help distract from the modernistic hell we have found ourselves born into.
    Tick tock tick tock……

  28. The change in maternal behavior can really be compared to out society, especially in big cities. I guess rats aren't that different from humans after all.

  29. This reminds me of when i went to school.
    Cramped, Lack of Rescources (Education wise, …and the exeption being that most people have good internet at home..so)
    and mostly, horrible food. Rare Feelings of safety (the ladder due to securety being uptight, and schoolshooters being very contrivertal atm)

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