Why Isn’t There More Incel Violence?
Do online worlds have a pacifying effect on the potential for violence among sexless young men?
About the Author
William Costello graduated with distinction with an MSc in Psychology, Culture and Evolution from Brunel University London in 2021. He is currently a PhD student of Individual Differences and Evolutionary Psychology in Dr. David Buss' lab at the University of Texas at Austin. William’s dissertation investigated the underlying psychology of incels (involuntary celibates).
The first paper from his dissertation is published in the journal Evolutionary Psychological Science, and revealed counterintuitive facts about incel demographics which challenge existing stereotypes (e.g., a varied political orientation and a disproportionate BIPOC representation in the community). His data suggest that incels are a particularly at-risk group who disproportionately suffer from a variety of mental health issues including severe depression, anxiety, loneliness, autism spectrum disorder, and a significant tendency for interpersonal victimhood. The second paper from his dissertation research investigated The Mating Psychology of Incels. This work, which is currently in press at The Journal of Sex Research, identified some cognitive distortions in incels’ thinking, e.g., incels make fundamental errors about female mate preferences. Incels overestimate the importance of physical attractiveness and financial resources to women, while underestimating the importance of intelligence, kindness, and humor.
In 2023 William was selected as the APA (American Psychological Association) Division 51 Society for the Psychological Study of Men & Masculinities student of the year. Follow William on X @CostelloWilliam and ResearchGate.
Finding and retaining a mate represent persistent adaptive problems for humans. Modern humans descend from an unbroken evolutionary chain of ancestors who successfully solved these problems. It seems somewhat paradoxical, therefore, that there is a growing community of men who strongly identify with their perceived inability to solve these adaptive problems—involuntary celibates (incels).
Incels are a primarily online sub-culture community of men who forge a sense of identity around their perceived inability to form sexual or romantic relationships. The incel community operates almost exclusively online, providing an outlet to express misogynistic hostility, frustration, and blame society for a perceived failure to include them. Incels believe that genetic factors, evolved mate preferences, and inequitable social structures restrict their access to sexual relationships with women. They believe that most women are attracted to a small number of men (who they refer to as “Chads”), who monopolize sexual encounters, while the “genetically inferior” incels are excluded from mating.
In this sense, incels represent somewhat of a paradox, and to our knowledge a somewhat evolutionarily novel group of men. We have a deep evolutionary history of involuntarily celibate men. Indeed, genetic evidence reveals that in every generation, most women reproduce whereas only a subset of men reproduce. Modern incels, however, appear unique in galvanizing a shared victimhood identity around their sexless and mateless circumstance.
Do incels have a propensity for violence?
We can make a compelling case for why society should not ignore its incel problem. There is robust evidence for what is referred to in the evolutionary psychology literature as the Young Male Syndrome. The Young Male Syndrome refers to the tendency for surplus populations of unpartnered young men to disproportionately harm society and themselves, due to increased status seeking and risk taking in pursuit of mates. There is also accumulating evidence from criminology for the sexual frustration theory of aggression, violence, and crime. Research also shows that unwanted celibacy (independent of incel identity) is associated with misogynistic attitudes among men. These lines of evidence should give us cause for concern about the problems incels face and represent in society.
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