Escaping the Laboratory: The Rodent Experiments of John B. Calhoun & Their Cultural Influence

Edmund Ramsden, Jon Adams
2009 Journal of Social History  
In John B. Calhoun's early crowding experiments, rats were supplied with everything they needed -except space. The result was a population boom, followed by such severe psychological disruption that the animals died off to extinction. The take-home message was that crowding resulted in pathological behaviourin rats and by extension in humans. For those pessimistic about Earth's "carrying capacity," the macabre spectacle of this "behavioural sink" was a compelling symbol of the problems awaiting
more » ... overpopulation. Calhoun's work enjoyed considerable popular success. But cultural influence can run both ways. In this paper, we look at how the cultural impact of Calhoun's experiments resulted in a simplified, popular version of his work coming to overshadow the more nuanced and positive message he wanted to spread, and how his professional reputation was affected by this popular "success."
doi:10.1353/jsh.0.0156 fatcat:knmyqppsvrcttdyjtssnbcrsem