Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Calhoun's Universe 25 mice experiments; overpopulation effects related to modern social themes

This is the third post in a row branching off the subject of tea, which I will get back to.  It has been nice mixing things up.

I've just ran across a really interesting summary of some social structure oriented experiments on mice by a researcher in the late 60s through the 70s, John Calhoun's rat and mice experiments related to the effects of overpopulation.

There's a lot to get through, and I have a number of comments on how I see it potentially relating to what we experience today, so I'll need to keep this moving.  I'll pass on a short summary of what I see as the overview, then cite a summary I ran across that offers a somewhat abbreviated and highly interpreted version, then comments on what doesn't seem right in that.  Then on to comments about how I see the mice and rat findings relating to current social trends, which play out in the most obvious fashion in social media use patterns and social groups.  

That topic outline:

1. overview of the experiments (focusing mainly on one set of findings)

2. summary article

3. likely errors in that summary

4. key findings overview

5. links to modern trends, especially related to social media trends and groups

6. final conclusions

1. Overview of the experiments

The "Universe 25" part relates to one experiment trial, obviously enough the 25th in a series.  The idea was to set up rat or mice "utopias," isolated living conditions where they had ample food, shelter, safety, and separated living areas to see what the forms or stages of their breeding and behavior would be, as their population naturally increased.  If I'm remembering correctly Calhoun anticipated a relatively high population would develop relatively quickly, about as fast as normal breeding timing allowed for, and the results didn't match that.  

I'll add links to two separate research papers by him, and one multiple-part video interview.  I would recommend that anyone who finds this theme as interesting as I do doesn't take my summary and conclusions as accurate, reviewing his take as well.  Some of what I've seen in summaries seems clearly wrong, and I'll speculate beyond what the original researcher concluded.  It may be hard to clearly identify that cut-off, even though I'll try to make it explicit.

It's hard to separate why he started doing this, what the original goals were, from later positioning and research direction, on to what he had already discovered and was looking to clarify.  In a sense what he initially expected doesn't matter, versus what he later found out through results.  Even his own interpretation is worth keeping separate from the actual findings details, noting what seems to be clearly identified facts (breeding population numbers, behavior patterns) from cause and effect sequences, why the rats and mice were doing what they were doing.  Earlier on he had been working with rats and changed that to mice, so by the time of "Universe 25" he was dealing with mice populations instead.

I won't go into the details of the experiment set-up, how the zones were constructed, what the animals were fed, how initial subjects were selected, and so on; all of that is in the summary papers.  It's probably as well to let that medium length summary cover the findings from this basic framing, and then correct errors (as I interpret them), and condense that down to a clear set of simple findings, to work with in extension to compare to human social trends.  

That last step of a comparison with people seems to have dropped out in review of this work back in the 70s and 80s, but that probably relates mostly to me only reading and citing some earlier content.  It would be easy to conclude that people and mice are two different things, and that these isolated and unusual circumstances just never would relate directly to actual human living conditions or behavior patterns.  

It's also worth noting that in a field I did actually study more, philosophy, entire directions and approaches were deemed unfruitful at different times, so that if you go back 45 years to read what philosophy was and how it was approached all of that would be unfamiliar.  It's a little strange seeing some of the same thing occur related to core texts that never really went away, like Plato or Kant's work, so that earlier interpretations just seem odd in comparison to the terms they later came to be defined in, and the conclusions.  

In a second video section of the one reference Calhoun anticipated that there was a window of time to apply these findings to develop human social sciences, and that the same patterns wouldn't occur in human societies until around the present time (2020; now), and not in the more extreme forms until around the time-frame of 2040.  He thought the damage would have been done by then, that overpopulation would have led to the negative changes seen in rats before that time, on the order of when there were 7-8 billion people alive, so now.  Why he thinks there is an earlier window for resolving root causes prior to the full impact of social crowding or overpopulation effects setting in becomes clear in the findings details; keep that connection in mind.

By Waldir - Own work, based on the data of File:Population curve.svg, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9669828

That raises an interesting tangent; in that second video segment he is able to accurately predict human population change over the next 50 years, up until now, because he did that simple graphing in 1970 in that video reference.  It looked a lot like what I've just shown here, a log-log scale graph of time and population, with his mapped pattern shown as a straight line.

He also predicted that population control measures would have been implemented by the beginning of this century, or there would be a natural tendency for populations to stabilize, although he didn't anticipate that process would be relatively complete until there were around 9 billion people, in the 2040's time-frame.  So far all that seems right.  It might seem like all that is a completely different subject than what these rats went though, and that I never do get it to link together.  That's it, I won't; Calhoun's expectations of predicting future human society changes is really kind of a separate subject, an extension of what I'll consider.

The main core finding relates to the concept of "behavioral sink:"

"Behavioral sink" is a term invented by ethologist John B. Calhoun to describe a collapse in behavior which can result from overcrowding.

2. Universe 25 summary article (Quora answer)

If this is a personal summary then this link is already a complete attribution, but more typically these are cut and pasted, and the real source is missing, which is even implied in the question framing.  Either way:

What is something that you read recently and is worth sharing

Read about The "Universe 25" experiment it is one of the most terrifying experiments in the history of science, which, through the behavior of a colony of mice, is an attempt by scientists to explain human societies. 

The idea of ​​"Universe 25" Came from the American scientist John Calhoun, who created an "ideal world" in which hundreds of mice would live and reproduce. More specifically, Calhoun built the so-called "Paradise of Mice", a specially designed space where rodents had Abundance of food and water, as well as a large living space. 

In the beginning, he placed four pairs of mice that in a short time began to reproduce, resulting in their population growing rapidly. However, after 315 days their reproduction began to decrease significantly. When the number of rodents reached 600, a hierarchy was formed between them and then the so-called "wretches" appeared. The larger rodents began to attack the group, with the result that many males begin to "collapse" psychologically. As a result, the females did not protect themselves and in turn became aggressive towards their young. As time went on, the females showed more and more aggressive behavior, isolation elements and lack of reproductive mood. There was a low birth rate and, at the same time, an increase in mortality in younger rodents. 

Then, a new class of male rodents appeared, the so-called "beautiful mice". They refused to mate with the females or to "fight" for their space. All they cared about was food and sleep. At one point, "beautiful males" and "isolated females" made up the majority of the population. As time went on, juvenile mortality reached 100% and reproduction reached zero. 

Among the endangered mice, homosexuality was observed and, at the same time, cannibalism increased, despite the fact that there was plenty of food. Two years after the start of the experiment, the last baby of the colony was born. By 1973, he had killed the last mouse in the Universe 25. John Calhoun repeated the same experiment 25 more times, and each time the result was the same.

Calhoun's scientific work has been used as a model for interpreting social collapse, and his research serves as a focal point for the study of urban sociology.

3. Likely errors in that summary

It's not bad, actually.  I'm interpreting these as errors, based on reading two of Calhoun's own papers, and other summaries and interpretations, and watching a video of two interviews of Calhoun, and one other interview summary (and I'll add the links at the end).

Errors / clarification:

1. 25 trials:  He didn't run 25 identical experiments, he kept changing the parameters, and kept finding similar trends.  Maybe he did run "universes" 25 through 50 using identical parameters but it seems more likely this is just an error.  He even changed the initial form from using rats to using mice.  It makes for an interesting context for it to have worked out exactly the same 25 tests in a row (here described as "running" 25 times after one complete test), but it still works if the findings kept repeating, but in different forms based on using different set-ups and contexts, which is how I understood it really did happen.

2. Ideal world / paradise:  it was a test for checking on how overpopulation worked out in a rodent test environment, so in a sense that was a "mouse paradise," but in another sense it was set up to run until failure.  Calhoun would've been surprised if the mice had developed some sort of ideal mouse-society structures and behaviors.  There was ample food, water, living space, restriction of external threats, and elimination of disease, to the extent possible, but of course it was going to get hellish eventually.

3. Steady state prior to decline, rodents attacking each other:  a number of distinct social roles came up, not just that of larger male dominant mice who attacked others.  I'll map out my understanding of the results in the next section but this requires that breakdown to serve as corrective commentary:

alpha male:  one role was that of dominant males, who would take over residence areas and only allow females to enter.  It could be clearer-seeming different in different citations--but males who had dropped intention of breeding may have been allowed in the same areas.  At any rate the main point of this simple summary is right, except that it doesn't frame this point as clearly as it might, that some males set up local zones they dominated individually.  Calhoun wasn't using the "alpha male" terminology; that seems to have evolved in common use later, or else he just didn't take it up.

females related to alpha male:  this didn't seem like some odd version of human polygamy, pair-bonding extending to a group, as in a Mormon society, but per one description something like this seems to have occurred.  Then most of the mice also lived grouped as crowded into common spaces, including both less dominant males and females.

males other than alpha males:  the dominance competition didn't end with some few males claiming territory; it continued in the form of ongoing fighting between other males.  The "winner" in these competitions wouldn't be completely consistent, although some male mice would more consistently lose or else drop out of this competition.   A concept of a "beta male" doesn't emerge, but two other forms of non-competitive males are described.  In the video interview Calhoun describes the stress levels of mice being tested and indicates that stress levels were very high for mice living in the crowded group areas.  I think this is a critical point, that the reactions of the mice all relate mostly to long term stress responses.

probers:  some male mice transitioned to performing relatively constant exploratory behavior, even though there really wasn't much for them to keep exploring.  This seemed to be described as a fall-back behavior related to continually losing the dominance competition.  

It could be completely unrelated but Jordan Peterson once described how in early experiments done on cats (which would now be regarded as unacceptably inhumane) parts of their brain could be removed, even most of them, and the cats could still function normally, for the most part, but would become hyper-exploratory.  It was as if the normal function of many higher order types of "reasoning" in cats led to restricting or tuning behavior in cats, in different ways, and without that processing the cats just kept looking around, as these mice did.  Attitudes towards animal testing seems to have changed a lot; none of these types of things would seem as acceptable now.

beautiful ones:  per my read on Calhoun's comments these included both males and females, not just males, as summarized in that Quora answer.  These mice are identified as socially non-competitive, not interacting with others in the same ways, only concerned with eating, sleeping, and grooming.  For whatever reason they hadn't been raised with normal social conditioning and normal behaviors, or else they chose to reject those.  Calhoun's description, from his 1962 paper:

Two other types of male emerged, both of which had resigned entirely from the struggle for dominance. They were, however, at exactly opposite poles as far as their levels of activity were concerned. The first were completely passive and moved through the community like somnambulists. They ignored all the other rats of both sexes, and all the other rats ignored them. Even when the females were in estrus, these passive animals made no advances to them. And only very rarely did other males attack them or approach them for any kind of play. To the casual observer the passive animals would have appeared to be the healthiest and most attractive members of the community. They were fat and sleek, and their fur showed none of the breaks and bare spots left by the fighting in which males usually engage. But their social disorientation was nearly complete. 

That clearly identifies the "beautiful ones" as a sub-type of males, but it seems like that's not how the behavior pattern is described elsewhere, although I could be drawing on other summaries that get that wrong.  Note that citations from the 1962 paper relate to rat behavior, not mice, tied to Calhoun's practice of using experiments based on rats earlier on then on mice later.  That second mouse type mentioned in the last citation was the "prober" group, already introduced, here described further:

Perhaps the strangest of all the types that emerged among the males was the group I have called the probers.  These animals, which always lived in the middle pens, took no part at all in the status struggle. Nevertheless, they were the most active of all the males in the experimental populations, and they persisted in their activity in spite of attacks by the dominant animals. In addition to being hyperactive, the probers were both hypersexual and homosexual, and in time many of them became cannibalistic.

Calhoun seems to link the degraded behavior patterns with females putting less emphasis on raising offspring, paying less attention to them.  In some cases female mice would even kill their offspring, or neglect them to the extent that the young mice died.  These social patterns, of social non-participation or other pathological tendencies, seemed to relate to these female parenting patterns affecting the next generations, brought on by changes in female mouse behavior.  It's not completely clear that this was mostly related to stress response.  The isolated females should have experienced less stress, intuitively, but since the mouse social patterns led to eventual extinction this couldn't have resulted in a stable set of responses.

Other factors brought up but not treated at length include infant mortality, a lack of breeding (failing to have any offspring), homosexuality (or something like that, related behaviors), and cannibalism.  I'll cover more about those in a next section summarizing results more clearly, again in the form of my own interpretation.

4. Key findings overview

What all this means relates to two separate levels of analysis:  the points I didn't describe yet (eg. why the mice committed cannibalism), and how to interpret these patterns.  

Calhoun takes one very large step beyond drawing experiment conclusions in the second video interview, extending what he identified as discovered application to human interactions, then projecting that onto a time-frame for when these types of experiences would apply more directly to people.  He never "pushes" that far enough to speculate those specific forms, how human societies or individual behaviors would fail in the same ways, at least in that video.  For example, he doesn't guess if cannibalism will occur among people in greater numbers, or homosexuality, or predict how the dominant male to group of related females breeding pattern would be enacted, since humans could never experience directly parallel circumstances.

Let's start with the granular description first, how those other details seem to fit in with the rest, then move on more to interpretation after that.

cannibalism / homosexual behavior:  these Calhoun seems to interpret as related as behavioral anomalies, not so different than the continual exploration / "probing" behavior.  It seems to be how the mice react to high-stress conditions that shatter their normal social role patterns.  Aggressive behavior also relates; the descriptions of mice continually fighting ties to these others.  A comment in a Quora discussion claimed that Calhoun was really trying to link homosexuality with crowding and psychological stress, but in at least the two papers and two short video interviews he really doesn't expand on that topic at all.  No doubt other commentary and interpretation by others has added more to that discussion, and it's possible Calhoun addresses it further in other material.  

Of course the mice aren't pursuing homosexual, pair-bonded relationships, they are only mimicking the sex act with other male mice.  In common understanding this could relate to dominance demonstration (although obviously I'm not trained in psychology, so I'm not trying to pass on a developed interpretation).  Per the short references it didn't seem to be tied to that, just to abnormal behavior instead, as the fighting not related to sexual selection dominance was, or the mice and rats biting each others' tails without clear purpose.  From the context of Calhoun's comments it didn't even seem like the mice were necessarily seeking sexual gratification, as if they could just be behaving somewhat erratically for parting ways with pre-conditioned social responses so drastically.

Calhoun's own related description from the 1962 paper is interesting:

Below the dominant males both on the status scale and in their level of activity were the homosexuals-a group perhaps better described as pan sexual.  These animals apparently could not discriminate between appropriate and inappropriate sex partners. They made sexual advances to males, juveniles and females that were not in estrus. The males, including the dominants as well as the others of the pansexuals' own group, usually accepted their attentions. The general level of activity of these animals was only moderate. They were frequently attacked by their dominant associates, but they very rarely contended for status. 

Cannibalism wasn't explained or expanded on either.  It seems implied that both young mice and adults were killed and eaten, related to stress response, but without a more complete analysis or without more background that pattern isn't clear.

die-off:  this seems to relate to mice losing social conditioning to fulfill normal roles, with that new set of mice lacking that conditioning simply stopping breeding.  Calhoun defines the transition in terms of a "first death" when successful, normal social conditioning stopped, in terms of that step leading to death, and also the more metaphorical death of the mouse culture (or end of successful social conditioning patterns, if one would rather).  It's odd that this could occur so completely that the mouse colonies would completely cease to exist, but that's an interesting and disturbing part of the study findings, that they are counter-intuitive.

This is why Calhoun interprets these findings as being so dire, in relation to drawing a parallel with human societies.  He doesn't just see these patterns as indicating unhealthy trends that may repeat among people, but as representing the potential downfall of human societies as a whole.  It would take time, and would occur over some stages, as it did with the mice.  Even if it would never relate to this final level (extinction) the earlier negative patterns aren't as reversible as they might seem, at least in the case of the mice.  

Intuitively the alpha males and related females should have been able to set up a new mouse behavior paradigm that could repeat over the long term, but that's not what they observed.  This interim steady-state context was only stable over the short term, with some degree of further decline built into those conditions, at least within the context of that experiment.

lessons learned:  really I didn't get far with this part, even though it's really the likely crux.  Calhoun mentioned that in other experiments it was possible to set up a similar context, along with learned-response reward systems, to build in goals and evolving positive response cycles for the mice, and avoid the negative conditions and final terminal end state.  Those lessons and conditions may really fall too far from human experience to be as useful, or that really could relate to the entire experiment structure.  

If humans could be confined to a limited space, with limited outlets, for example in an underground city space, some of this context and the findings may apply more directly.  Even then people are more self-aware than mice or rats, with the potential to set up more shared boundaries, roles, and restrictions, and may be able to avoid some of the same endpoint states, even under the most identical conditions imaginable.  It would be interesting to compare these results to studies of social behavior patterns among long term prison inmate populations, to see if there really would be any carry-over.  It seems a stretch, as if the parallel would be more complete observed over human lifetimes, versus decades, with prison population turn-over renewing social expectations and perspectives too much to replicate these negative transitions.

interpretation and criticism of Calhoun's work:  Edmund Ramsden & Jon Adams wrote a good 2008 summary of the experiments, specific findings, conclusion interpretations, and later acceptance and rejection of these ideas and methodology in Escaping the Laboratory: The Rodent Experiments of John B. Calhoun & Their Cultural Influence.  

The point here is to consider these ideas, and then interpret other later isolated but related patterns in human societies as potentially similar or not.  It's a different kind of thing to speculate about how patterns found in rodent social experiments might inform us of human society behavior.  It might seem like I've just contradicted myself, but as I see it the two themes can stay separate.  We can look for and consider underlying human society patterns that superficially mirror these study results, without ever expecting the studies to necessarily predict or relate to the other human conditions.  Partial parallels could be interesting and informative, even without expecting underlying causal connections.

It would be interesting if the forms of societal decay Calhoun expected happen next, or if that's what we are actually witnessing now.  As I've interpreted the little I've ran across he saw his own work as a starting point, not a detailed model, and definitely not predictive in that sense.  That's in spite of him anticipating that population growth would become a problem on a sociological level, as it was experienced individually through impact to social forms, not just in terms of resource depletion or scarcity.

In a Smithstonian Magazine reference a slight variation in interpretation is mentioned:

Now, interpretations of Calhoun’s work has changed. Inglis-Arkell explains that the habitats he created weren’t really overcrowded, but that isolation enabled aggressive mice to stake out territory and isolate the beautiful ones. She writes, "Instead of a population problem, one could argue that Universe 25 had a fair distribution problem."

At least at that level of detail this doesn't seem to add much.  The mice had more space than they needed, and unlimited food, so the limitation was on social relationships, between individuals competing for dominance.  It's odd framing access to female breeding partners as a "distribution problem," although I guess in some sense that might work.

I think it helps to keep the timeline in mind.  I've cited Calhoun's published work in two forms from 1962 and 1973, with a video reference from 1970 (all in a references section following).  The IBM PC was introduced in 1981, and the world wide web (file-type conventions) formally created around 1991, so Calhoun wasn't able to factor in the source of the main changes we've experienced in the last 40 years.  The following section doesn't do that either, but it does raise some related social changes that at least superficially resemble his mice behavior patterns. 

5. Links to modern trends, including social media groups and trends

This would also have to seem a stretch, and the ideas in this section will be quite speculative, but hear me out.  The idea here is to consider to what extent patterns in modern societies or social groupings may already replicate some of these isolated-mouse-society patterns, and why.  Obviously I'm not suggesting that human societies are falling apart in the same ways that these experiments predicted.  The idea is to consider some related effects, without the causes necessarily being similar.

incels (involuntary celibates):  obviously just summarizing this pattern or social group as either of those, a pattern or a social group, will be too problematic to fully justify, but there is an obvious clear parallel here.  I'll use a Wikipedia summary to cover that background faster:


Incels (/ˈɪnsɛlz/ IN-selz), a portmanteau of "involuntary celibates", are members of an online subculture who define themselves as unable to find a romantic or sexual partner despite desiring one. Discussions in incel forums are often characterized by resentment, misogyny, misanthropy, self-pity and self-loathing, racism, a sense of entitlement to sex, and the endorsement of violence against sexually active people. 

The American nonprofit Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) described the subculture as "part of the online male supremacist ecosystem" that is included in their list of hate groups. Incels are mostly male and heterosexual, and many sources report that incels are predominantly white. Estimates of the overall size of the subculture vary greatly, ranging from thousands to hundreds of thousands.

At least six mass murders, resulting in a total of 44 deaths, have been committed since 2014 by men who have either self-identified as incels or who had mentioned incel-related names and writings in their private writings or Internet postings. Incel communities have been criticized by the media and researchers for being misogynistic, encouraging violence, spreading extremist views, and radicalizing their members...

So really two aspects seem to carry over:  the theme of some males (mostly males) representing themselves as not being able to successfully pair bond or mate with females, and resulting violence.  With "only" six mass murders being referenced one might wonder if that's a higher than average case proportion in the US (it surely is; the point here is that mass murder should be more of an anomaly than it actually is).  

It's not clear what causes this, why that pattern shows up as something a group of people all experience, but a sub-theme relates to an odd description of the context and potential causes:

The "black pill" generally refers to a set of commonly-held beliefs in incel communities, which include biological determinism, fatalism, and defeatism for unattractive people... as "a profoundly sexist ideology that ... amounts to a fundamental rejection of women's sexual emancipation, labeling women shallow, cruel creatures who will choose only the most attractive men if given the choice." 

...a belief that the entire social system was broken and that one's place in the system was not something any individual could change. An incel who has "taken the black pill" has adopted the belief that they are hopeless, and that their lack of success romantically and sexually is permanent regardless of any changes they might try to make to their physical appearance, personality, or other characteristics.

A bit extreme, right?  One part stands out to me, describing women as "choos[ing] only the most attractive men if given the choice."  There's no way to successfully do it, but that needs to be unpacked, to determine why that's not just a natural outcome, and why it relates to a problem of this importance in this context.  The higher level description is interesting, that "the entire social system was broken."

On to the guessing part, but first one more observation that links to that.  A online contact (/ friend; that boundary is hard to pin down) mentioned trying out dating apps (programs) and not being successful, not doing much dating as a result.  Someone else commented in that Facebook discussion--this was all being hashed out in an open forum--that per their experience the most attractive few men and women tend to choose each other and meet through dating apps, and the majority who aren't as attractive also choose those potential partners and then aren't selected.  That implies a lot more for sweeping general patterns than I intend, but how that could and probably does work, to some degree, is obvious enough.

Next one would wonder about the expected normal, conventional pattern of people of all different levels of being "naturally attractive"--possessing symmetrical features, clear skin, athletic appearance, lack of noticeable negative features, etc.--pairing based on shared interests, and acceptance that their partner doesn't need to look like a model or movie star.  Intuitively that should happen, and to some extent it must.

One factor or driver that might well "throw a spanner into the works" could be social status and income level related to males.  Men would tend to over-emphasize appearance, per my experience as a male, and general perception, but women would factor in a broader set of concerns, including appearance and these other two concerns.  It's not unheard of for people to describe themselves as "sapio-sexual," valuing intelligence, and other shared interests could always factor in (reading preference, passtimes, social groupings, personal interests, liking tea).  

But if we can assume that physical attractiveness and social status, largely linked to income, might be over-riding factors for females judging males then that could leave a significant majority of males out.  Many might see only the second half as open to being changed, their status, and even that might not be easy.  Of course weight issues and such can be addressed, or personal style concerns.  Sloppy clothing styles, poor grooming, poor posture, or even wearing a fedora might limit males' visual appeal.

Let's consider one or two alpha-male cases that might help place this, if only to a limited degree.  In the realm of Instagram influencers Dan Bilzerian is famous for putting out an image of himself as being surrounded by beautiful women who accompany him (an ex-military guy known for physique, attractiveness, cultivating image through gun ownership, and playing poker).  That's probably about as close as we could get to the alpha-male Universe 25 direct mapping.  Of course some of that is just image; he probably earns significant income from leveraging that social media persona, so to some degree that's also a business branding issue.  Then there are Hollywood stars who date many young women, a pattern that would repeat in more conventional forms.  Those women date multiple successful men too, no doubt, so the parallel isn't as clearly formed.

In both these extreme and relatively unconventional examples the paradigm of attractive men and multiple women partnering gets extended.  We're not seeing how people across a broader spectrum are in any way blocked from dating or finding a long term mate by this.  Only the mouse-society case of a significant number of dominant males maintaining multiple partners--both the very successful "alphas" and the temporarily successful mixed population mice--seems to set up this set of circumstances.

There are two ways this same selection paradigm could result in the involuntarily single-male outcome (here still on the human case):

1.  females are also involuntarily single, or at least voluntarily so.  This seems most likely, since the other outcome seems a stretch, extensive polygamy occurring.

2. some males are either dating multiple women or serial dating to a degree that throws off the equitable pairing conclusion.  Maybe this happens, but given that all this is a tangent to a tangent I should really let this drop at this point.  I'll move on to considering another related societal pattern.

incel caricatures: 

I won't spend too much time on this but it is interesting, how evolved these images and stereotypes become in online discussions.

the successful male is ridiculed more because self-identifying incels draw these images

What Does 'Chad' Mean? The Odd Way Incel Men On Reddit And 4Chan Use It To Describe Certain Guys

According to Incel Wiki, "A chad is someone who can elicit near universal positive female sexual attention at will. A chad tends to be between an '8' to a '10' on the decile scale, has an extremely high income and/or an extreme amount of social status. A sexually active chad has sex with a wide variety of women, and has exclusive access to Stacy...

The stereotype evolves, only partly as a joke, with the standard description for an "incel" tied to the typical understanding:

The people in these "incel" circles are portraying the "alphas" negatively on purpose, and also really do identify with the cartoon-like incel character, but the joking around shifts the intentions and forms.

image credit:  Incels Categorize Women by Personal Style and Attractiveness

The female parallel is interesting because again there is an intention to make fun of the most attractive females, but the less appealing, plainer "Becky" image is also portrayed as attractive (or probably more so than the "higher" feminine ideal, for seeming like a real person).  It's important context that the people identifying as incels aren't dating or sleeping with those plainer-image women either, which helps explain why they are also being derided.

What about actually unattractive women, the more direct female equivalent?  I'm just speculating, but it seems like women who are seen as below average in attractiveness are generally just disregarded.  But why?  It's a stretch to guess that over-exposure to physically attractive women as paradigms make them seem even less desirable, but I suppose there could be something to that.

But maybe it's not that.  Maybe for whatever other reasons these males never acquire the social skills necessary to date any female, regardless of how they match up.  Disregarding the women that they actually could date, but don't, could help externalize the problems as not based within their own shortcomings. 

It's important to consider why this paradigm is so heavily tipped towards males initiating any relationship development.  Per my understanding reality really is set up this way, with males initiating most related social contact and women playing the role of approving or rejecting advances.  Of course that's too broad a claim for me to develop or support, even though I experienced it over decades and many relationships.  Maybe what I experienced really included a more subtle first step, a signal to initiate the process first started by women, and I was dull enough to often miss that.  Flirting would relate to both genders, and who knows what I really went through when I was most involved in exploration in my 20s.

I'll mention a video link in which Jordan Peterson describes his take on how that works, how the selection process between males and females is structured (which is really worth watching, even if you completely reject all that content, and Jordan Peterson's ideas in general).   Another video addresses his take on why some men fail at dating.

Bear in mind that although he is a psychologist many of his ideas are controversial.  For sure he is describing some well established basics of how men and women interact in mate selection, and then adding some of his own interpretation about modern forms of patterns that are much more speculative.

In all that "incel culture" discussion it's easy to overlook that the female experience isn't really addressed, beyond blaming women for making partner choices in sweeping generalized forms.  I'm not headed anywhere with that direction, just pointing out the obvious.

childlessness by choice:  the obvious example for this pattern also relating to people seems to relate to Japanese society as a whole.  Rather than summarize that from personal knowledge I'll cite the first related article turned up by Google search:

Japan's Births Decline To Lowest Number On Record (NPR, December 2019)

The country's health ministry announced Tuesday that the number of babies born in 2019 fell by an estimated 5.9% this year, to 864,000. It's the first time since 1899, when the government began tracking the data, that the number has dipped below 900,000, according to The Asahi Shimbun....

What accounts for the steep drop in births? The health ministry points to the declining numbers of people of reproductive age, as the offspring of baby boomers get older.

That joins other factors — namely the immense burden shouldered by Japanese women to do housework and child care by themselves, and a culture that makes it difficult to both have a job outside the home and be a mother. Younger generations of Japanese women have increasingly opted to continue working, rather than get married, have children and give up their careers...

...Marriage rates in Japan have halved since the early 1970s, and birth rates have declined in tandem.

It's probably as well if I don't try to link this to broader patterns in other places, or back to the mice.  In both cases mice and people are intentionally not reproducing, and it's enough to note that this is an isolated case related to degree, but not in relation to it only happening there.  From the framing here it doesn't have anything to with stress response, directly, but instead relates to opposing demands. 

This is really more interesting related to Calhoun's predictions for societal changes during this century than for being a clear tie-in with his experimental results.  He anticipated this, a leveling off of population increase, just not necessarily in this form.  It definitely could be unrelated and coincidental that outcomes from separate causal patterns matched up.

the "beautiful ones" mice case:

Relating to some mice dropping out of playing normal roles in society, or failing to be conditioned to observe those, it would be natural to link this to Millennial generation culture, wouldn't it?  It seems as well to leave the cultural stereotypes out and just cover some clearly noted and documented trends, from a Pew Research Center summary:

The financial well-being of Millennials is complicated. The individual earnings for young workers have remained mostly flat over the past 50 years. But this belies a notably large gap in earnings between Millennials who have a college education and those who don’t. 

...On the whole, Millennials are starting families later than their counterparts in prior generations. Just under half (46%) of Millennials ages 25 to 37 are married, a steep drop from the 83% of Silents who were married in 1968. The share of 25- to 37-year-olds who were married steadily dropped for each succeeding generation, from 67% of early Boomers to 57% of Gen Xers...

In 2016, 48% of Millennial women (ages 20 to 35 at the time) were moms. When Generation X women were the same age in 2000, 57% were already mothers, similar to the share of Boomer women (58%) in 1984.

Of course that mentioned the trend of Millennial generation members to not develop independent living arrangements as often or as quickly as in past generations, tied to higher housing costs and higher student loan debt burdens.

Obviously I'm not implying that Millennial generation members are more likely to drop out social role attributes.  Due to a mix of complex factors it is more difficult for those at the lower end of the economic earnings spectrum to take up those life choices or conditions as quickly, or for as many to.  

Again it's not directly related to any of these specific changes, but Calhoun expected changes to broad social patterns, which he related to population growth, to be initiated in the mid 1980s (in 1970) and then become more completely transitioned by 2040.  It's interesting keeping that time-frame expectation in mind while considering these types of actually-experienced changes.  

Calhoun was a bit idealistic, thinking that people could shed the light of day on underlying social change factors and make conscious choices to affect both individual experience and societal level transitions by the mid 1980s.  50 years later it's still not clear if vaguely related patterns are playing out, or what is causing the changes we definitely do see happening.

Back to the mice

A picture emerges here of these mice predicting some trends we see now.  That's either because that model accurately predicted societal changes 50 years ago, or it's because I've just cherry-picked modern culture themes that at least superficially link to those in the study.  It's more the latter, for sure, but all of these themes are interesting to consider on their own, and also as potentially connected patterns.

Society isn't fragmenting and breaking down though.  Or is it?  To the extent that it may be crowding and mate selection issues don't seem to be at the center of the problems.

Other forms of societal pressures may match some of these patterns, as economic issues result in unusual levels of personal stress.  Atypical levels of social contact alone seem unlikely to cause the same types of behavioral patterns seen in the mice.  

It's essentially a separate issue but atypical levels of social contact may be exactly what a lot of people are experiencing right now, not in the form of who they are confronted with face to face, or walk by, but in relation to social media exposure.  We all "touch on" the lives of hundreds of others on a daily basis by scanning social media posts in discussions (or thousands, really, if you keep reading the comment sections).  It's possible to compare yourself and your potential dating or long term partners to unrealistic beauty or achievement standards through that exposure.  That must cause stress, for some.

I can't really link the current political divide in the US to these themes, but that's definitely stressful, especially right now.  It's as if those mice had somehow divided into two opposing groups that then somehow stayed in constant contact with each other.  

That would be what the crowded group setting mice would have experienced; a non-stop competitive struggle for social position.  It's not clear how female mice experienced that, since my impression was that they weren't actually physically fighting.  But they were also not interacting in any normal way with a male partner (assuming that mice do that, which I'm not clear on).  That could have related to their tendency to move away from the duties of taking care of their offspring, and then later dropping that out.

Even if both the causes and effects don't match up, between mice being crowded and modern social factors, we might be seeing parallels related to people experiencing long term stress responses now.  All of this was interesting for me to consider, even if it never does clearly link in terms of mapping the themes together.


Population Density and Social Pathology, John Calhoun, Scientific American, 1962

Death Squared: The Explosive Growth and Demise of a Mouse Population, John Calhoun, Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine, January 1973

John B. Calhoun Film 7.1 [edited], (NIMH, 1970-1972) (there are other Youtube summaries but this is original interview content with John Calhoun)

Escaping the Laboratory: The Rodent Experiments of John B. Calhoun & Their Cultural Influence, Edmund Ramsden & Jon Adams, The Journal of Social History, January 2008 (first published)

How 1960s Mouse Utopias Led to Grim Predictions for Future of Humanity, Marissa Fessenden, Smithstonian Magazine (online reference), February 2015

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