COMMENT: Will bustling Singapore survive the rat race?

As Singapore's population grows and our private personal space shrinks, coping with the maddening crowd becomes an ever-increasinsg emotional struggle. (AFP photo)


As Singapore's population grows and our private personal space shrinks, coping with the maddening crowd becomes an ever-increasing emotional struggle.
By now, you may have watched the viral video of the mum in a Bedok carpark, who shot to internet infamy after the the incessant blaring of her car horn became a major public disturbance. Her act reeks not just of impatience and self-entitlement but also scant consideration for her neighbours or fellow drivers. 
But before you judge her by her act of selfishness, how many times have you yourself been curt or even rude in your conduct towards your fellow man?

How many times, away from the public eye or the intrusive snap of a video recording, have you yourself been guilty of a "me first" mentality?

Strained relations
Having lived in sleepy Perth in Western Australia for the last three years as an undergraduate, I know I've been guilty too.

As I adjust back to life in bustling Singapore, I've grown accustomed to battling for my spot in the train or bus during peak hours; the stress that I see among Singaporeans and my former life in Perth is a  jarring contrast. And it worries me at how the increase in population and lack of space will affect us all in future.

If this is how we behave now, what then will become of us as more people flow into the country?
In his famous 1960s "mouse universe" experiment, behavioural scientist John B. Calhoun’s showed how an ever-increasing number of mice living in a safe but finite living space resulted in a gradual breakdown in normal behaviour.

Over a two-year timeframe when the original mice were allowed to breed freely before resulting in overcrowding, the following changes were seen in the mice's behaviour: expulsion of young before weaning was complete, wounding of young, inability of dominant males to maintain the defence of their territory and females and increased aggressive behaviour of females.

After day 600, the social breakdown continued and the population declined toward extinction. During this time, females stopped reproducing. Their male counterparts withdrew completely and stopped engaging in courtship or fighting. They ate, drank, slept, and groomed themselves – alone.

The process was eventually termed "behavioural sink", and the conclusions drawn from this experiment were that, to quote Wikipedia, "when all available space is taken and all social roles filled, competition and stress experienced by individuals will result in a complete breakdown in complex social behaviours, ultimately resulting in the demise of the population".

Worryingly, the experiment also showed that the change in behaviour became permanent even after the mice population was reduced to a comfortable number.

In short, there is no turning back.

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