Are we headed toward a Behavioral Sink?

John B. Calhoun, a behavioral researcher who conducted experiments with mice in the 1960s, coined the term “behavioral sink.” Behavioral sink describes the collapse of normal behavior which results from overcrowding.  Calhoun’s experiment put multiple mice in cages of differing sizes. From here he sat back and watched as the behavioral changes took place due to the pressure of overcrowding. As you can imagine, being placed in an overcrowded space was stressful for the mice. They became so overwhelmed, they stopped having sex, had epidemic miscarriages, stopped eating, turned to cannibalism and eventually died out. So, what is the point? Calhoun is claiming if humans, like the mice, continue to reproduce at the current rates, we will create so much stress from overcrowding, our behavior will “sink” to concerning levels. It is also important to note, the experiments conducted during the 1960s had very little concern for the subjects. The Stanford Prison Experiment and Harlow’s monkey isolation experiment are just a couple of examples that show the little concern regarding the cruelty inflicted on the subjects.

I would argue “behavioral sink” is not due to crowded physical spaces, but rather by overrun virtual spaces. People have begun to lock themselves into a virtual cage filled with Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. The content on these social media platforms are incredible pervasive and easily accessible; it would take 100 years to view every YouTube video posted on the internet this week. The big problem is the correlation between the number of people on social media and the number of people interacting. We are social animals and we try to change our behavior to be accepted by a group, but the larger the group, the lower the odds of an individual being able to adopt behaviors that will satisfy everyone in the group. Thus, we have “behavioral sink” where people live vicariously through people on social media. It is true the more time we spend in the virtual cage, the more we lose touch with reality. While the virtual world is increasingly more overcrowded than the real world, one solution is to simply unplug and connect with one another.