Part of a lab experiment?

A long time ago, a college professor told his sociology class about a study that related the behavior of lab rodents to the density of their population.

Now, the study was a mid-20th century warning about the population explosion and how overcrowding might change the behavior — and the health — of a citizenry.

“Population Density and Social Pathology” was written in 1962 by researcher John B. Calhoun, based on his studies carried out under the guise of the National Institutes of Health. Calhoun found that when lab rodents were put in conditions of overcrowding, their fundamental behaviors changed.

Calhoun conducted studies where the size of the living space for the rodents remained the same as their population increased. At first, there was little change. Then, as population increased, behavior in some of the rodents became violent.

So what does this part of Calhoun’s work have to do with anything in today’s society? Well, we couldn’t help but think of the incidents of airliner rage that have occurred in the United States in the past couple of years.

As the airlines cram more and more seats into airplanes, passengers are getting angrier and angrier. Not unlike Calhoun’s lab animals.

Now Calhoun’s mice underwent a lot of other pathological changes (including the eventual extinction of one colony). Unless it’s a really long flight, airline passengers are probably not going to suffer that fate.

But the point is, the rages over reclining seats and declining space were not only predictable but also probably inevitable. Rodents — and people — need some living space.

It is undoubtedly a stretch to compare Calhoun’s work on overpopulation with the trials and tribulations of a 6-foot-tall passenger jammed into a middle seat in economy on a Boeing 737. But we’d hope airlines and the FAA realize that the safety of passengers demands a little respect for their mental health also.

(Sources: psycnet.apa.org, wikipedia.org. A version of this editorial has appeared previously in The Maui News.)

* Editorials reflect the opinion of the publisher.


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