Avoiding the Pitfalls of Overcrowding
by Joshua Hoyt
“The behavioral sink hole” is a term coined by American ethologist John B. Calhoun, after conducting a study on the overcrowding of rats. In his experiment, he studied how crowding affected the rats’ behavior. He observed four things:
(1) Rats that wanted to stay on top were required to fight more often than they would normally need to fight in a less crowded environment, with only one male rat ending up in charge.
(2) Other male rats became very submissive and would avoid all the other rats, including the females.
(3) Some male rats became sexual deviants, pursuing female rats without following usual courting protocol or becoming hyper-sexual, pursuing any rat, including the young and other males.
(4) Females were also affected, in that they stopped preparing their nests when they became pregnant.
Additional studies have looked at high-density populations in humans, as well. One study examined the differences between populations in a high-density prison compared to a less densely populated prison. The researchers found that those in the more populous prison experienced more suicides, violence, murders, and less compliance than those in the less populous prisons.
This leads us to characterization, and the question of how our characters should act. It seems that if we are to create believable characters, we need to look at the different stressors they may be going through, including the stress of overcrowding. Also, as our characters are put into high-density situations, they will need to fight for available resources. As our characters attempt to complete their “quests,” they will need resources that may not be readily available.
How do our characters react to these stresses? Do they become aggressive, are they submissive, or do they become sexual predators? Or do they overcome the “norm” and become our heroes, resisting the temptations of lesser beings to rise above the turmoil? Do they, in turn, raise the populace and bring peace to those around them?
Joshua Hoyt is a school psychologist by day, a father of four and a gamer when he’s not spending time with his family, and an author in all the other spare minutes. He is the author of How to Diagnose Your Character: Using Psychology to Create an In-Depth Character and Order of the Rose. Check out his blog where you can follow the exciting adventure of “The Old Man” and his website to be the first to learn about new releases.