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What does a Rodent experiment got to do with Singapore's declining birth rate and mental health?

Last Saturday, Channel News Asia ran an article titled, 'The ‘declining value’ of having children in Singapore – and how to fix it'.

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The article discusses Singapore's declining birth rate, which has fallen to a record low of 1.1 children per woman in 2020. The country has been facing a low birth rate for several years, and the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the situation. With travel restrictions and economic uncertainty, many couples have postponed their plans to have children.

The article highlights several initiatives that the government has implemented to encourage people to have more children, such as providing subsidies for fertility treatments and childcare. However, some experts argue that these measures are not enough to address the underlying reasons for the low birth rate, such as the high cost of living and long working hours.

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The article also discusses the changing attitudes towards marriage and parenthood in Singapore. While getting married and having children used to be considered essential milestones in life, more young people are now prioritizing their careers and personal goals. This shift in mindset has led to a decline in the number of marriages and a rise in the number of single-person households.

Overall, the article paints a complex picture of the factors contributing to Singapore's low birth rate and the challenges that the country faces in addressing this issue.

Now, you must be wondering why did I bring out a rodent experiment in 1968 and what has it got to do with Singapore's declining birth rate and mental health?

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In the late 1960s, biologist John Calhoun conducted a series of experiments to study the effects of overcrowding and social isolation on the behavior of rats. His most famous experiment, known as Universe 25, involved placing a group of rats in a specially designed environment that he called a "rat city."

The rat city was a large, enclosed space that contained a maze of interconnected tunnels and chambers. The rats had access to food, water, and nesting materials, but they were also subjected to increasing levels of overcrowding as the population grew.

The experiment began with four pairs of rats being placed in the rat city. The rats quickly established a social hierarchy and began to breed. As the population grew, the rats began to exhibit abnormal behaviors such as increased aggression, territorialism, and even cannibalism.

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Rodents have a hierarchical social structure, with dominant alpha males controlling groups of females. These alpha males establish their dominance through physical fights, where the winner claims a harem of females. In a mouse utopia experiment conducted by Calhoun, mice that lost fights couldn't escape and were called "dropouts". These dropouts often gathered in the center of the pen and engaged in senseless violent brawls.

The alpha males also faced challenges in defending their harems from other males. However, given the high survival rate of mice to adulthood, there were always a number of males ready to challenge the alphas. This resulted in exhausted alphas, who sometimes stopped defending their harems altogether. This caused nursing females to be regularly invaded by rogue males, leading to fights that were detrimental to the young. Some mothers would abandon their young or attack them in the chaos.

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Other deviant behaviors also emerged in the mouse utopia. Mice that were raised improperly or kicked out of their nests early often struggled with social interactions in adulthood. Maladjusted females began isolating themselves in empty apartments, and maladjusted males spent all their time grooming and preening themselves, with no interest in sex. Calhoun called these males "the beautiful ones". Such maladjusted behaviors could spread among mice, leading to a phenomenon dubbed "the behavioral sink".

Due to the lack of sexual activity and the inability to raise pups properly, the mouse population of Universe 25 began to decline rapidly. Newborn pups rarely survived past a few days, and eventually, new births stopped altogether. The older mice hid like hermits or groomed all day but eventually died out. By spring 1973, less than five years after the experiment started, the mouse population in Universe 25 had gone extinct.

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The conclusions drawn from the experiment have been subject to debate and interpretation, with some seeing it as a warning about the dangers of overpopulation and others as a criticism of modern society and its impact on individuals.

The biologist John Calhoun's rodent experiment is not a direct reflection of the declining birth rate in Singapore. However, the experiment does provide some insights into the effects of overcrowding and social isolation on animal behavior and reproduction.

In a similar vein, the declining birth rate in Singapore may be attributed to various factors such as changing aiage and parenthood, a focus on career and education, high cost of living, and limited space. These factors may lead to social isolation, stress, and reduced fertility.

Calhoun's scientific work has been used as a model for interpreting social collapse, and his research serves as a focal point for the study of urban sociology.

Presently, we are observing clear similarities in contemporary society.

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