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Escaping the laboratory: the rodent experiment of John B. Calhoun and their cultural influence

Ramsden, Edmund and Adams, Jon (2009) Escaping the laboratory: the rodent experiment of John B. Calhoun and their cultural influence. Journal of Social History, 42 (3). pp. 761-797. ISSN 0022-4529

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Identification Number: 10.1353/jsh/42.3.761

Abstract

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 behaviour – in 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 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.”

Item Type: Article
Official URL: http://jsh.oxfordjournals.org/content/current
Additional Information: © 2009 The Authors
Subjects: Q Science > Q Science (General)
H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D204 Modern History
Sets: Departments > Economic History
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Date Deposited: 20 Oct 2014 11:19
Last Modified: 05 Dec 2014 10:29
URI: http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/id/eprint/59888

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