Bangladesh population

What ‘Universe 25’ says about the psyche of the urban population

An experiment conducted in the 1960s showed how population density affects behavior patterns. The result was violence. It may be time to ask ourselves how the adverse effects of population density will affect our children

October 01, 2022, 11:10 a.m.

Last modification: 01 October 2022, 14:22

Md Morshedul Alam Mohabat. Sketch: TBS


Md Morshedul Alam Mohabat. Sketch: TBS

I have the strange habit of looking people in the eye, whether they are complete strangers to me or to my acquaintances. Because I believe the pair of eyes you’re looking into is actually the door to their mind.

And I see a chilling flair of violent mindset brewing inside the little boy who begs for alms with his mother (or the mother hired by the children’s begging syndicate), the rickshaw puller who swoops down on another shooter at the slightest instigation, the biker who sets his vehicle on fire to vent his pent-up frustration, and the car owner who beats up anyone who mistakenly scratches his vehicle while on the move.

Interestingly, people making a fuss for silly reasons and adding fuel to the fire to turn a slight misunderstanding into a fight are becoming an everyday affair in this capital. I see this kind of altercation from time to time on my way to and from the office. This kind of outburst instantiates a change in people’s mentality and indicates the dominance of violence (both psychological and physical).

Now, do you find a connection between the violent attitude of the urban population and an overcrowded city (Dhaka or other big cities)? Finding it quite out of place and far-fetched? If so, then the experiment known as “Universe 25” and its results can help you find your way around easily.

A seminal experiment was conducted on rodents in 1968 (continued until 1973) by Calhoun, an American ethologist and behavioral researcher renowned for his studies of population density and its impact on behavioral patterns. He designed a pen, a small area surrounded by a fence, where he left behind four pairs of mice along with plentiful nesting supplies, food and water as needed.

There was no shortage – the only thing in short supply was physical space. Well, it was only a matter of time before their coexistence ended in violence and harmony turned to acrimony as space gradually began to shrink with the increase in the population of mouse.

When the population grew and there seemed to be insufficient space for all, the rodents began to exhibit aberrant behavior, which Calhoun defined as a “behavioral sink”. This breakdown of the social order was the result of situations of overcrowded population density. Calhoun then anthropomorphized his findings. We can also relate these findings to the urban population just to pinpoint what is wrong with the psyche of city dwellers.

Dhaka is said to be the sixth most populous city in the world with a population of around 1,02,78,882 (as revealed by the Population and Housing Census-2022 report conducted just a few months ago). According to information from the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), about 39.35 thousand people live per square kilometer in the South while the rate is 30.47 thousand in the North City Corporation of Dhaka.

However, if we link this increasing population density to the behavioral pattern of city dwellers, we can easily perceive the abnormal changes taking place on the decline. As mentioned earlier, the inhabitants of the capital are becoming increasingly violent. It will be easier for you to agree with this point if you just take a look at when the pandemic broke out.

With the onset of the pandemic, different NGOs began to receive an increasing number of distress calls, insinuating that domestic violence against women had just exploded when people were confined within the walls of their homes. Interestingly, when all family members have to stay together in an apartment, it is also overcrowded.

According to BRAC, there was an almost 70% increase in incidents of violence against women reported in March and April 2020. This kind of sudden surge makes it all the more apparent that the nuances of violence are simmering in the spirit of the urban population.

Another finding was that the rodents began to neglect their peers and their pups. This also happens in Dhaka. Just look at the family structure – mixed families are very rare these days in the capital. More and more mixed families are breaking up to form nuclear families because people find it difficult to engage in the complex social relationships they must maintain while living in a joint family.

The most alarming impact was that mice born into this chaos failed to form social bonds or develop normal social behaviors. With the decrease in the number of playgrounds and green spaces in the capital, our children are already showing abnormal behavior. For example, children spend more time in front of the screen instead of playing outside and chatting by the fireplace with their peers and other family members, which indicates how far our descendants fail not adopt complex social behaviors.

Psychological changes are slow, silent and take years to manifest fully. The extent to which the adverse effects of population density will affect our children will only be more apparent over time.

Last but not least, even when the rodents were later released at the end of this experiment and exposed to a normal environment, they could not survive and show normal behavior because it was too late for them to reverse the psychological changes. that the mice underwent. through during the experience. If I tell this fate again to us who live in this megalopolis, are we also destined to face such an enemy? Is the urban population sailing towards oblivion every day while we are becoming more violent and inconsiderate every day? Only time will tell.

Md Morshedul Alam Mohabat is a columnist who enjoys delving into the human psyche to explore the factors that influence it.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.