A new study published in the journal Psychological Science suggests that incel behavior may be partly driven by mating markets with higher competition among men. The researchers found higher incel-related Twitter activity in parts of the United States with a scarcity of women, higher income inequality, and smaller gender gaps in income.
The term involuntary celibate, or incel, is used to describe men who regard themselves as unable to attract female partners. These men tend to blame their poor prospects on the fact that they do not measure up to the “alpha” males who are typically chosen by women. Incels often harbor feelings of animosity, which can lead to fury, aggression, and even violence. For example, incel ideology has been referenced by perpetrators of terrorist acts, like the 2014 Isla Vista killer.
Study authors Robert C. Brooks and his team aimed to examine how aspects of the socioecological environment might contribute to incel activity. Specifically, they proposed that incel behavior may be heightened in places where men face more competitive mating markets, such as areas with a scarcity of single women.
The researchers used Twitter data to examine online incel activity across 582 commuting zones in the US. From an original database of 321 million tweets, the researchers extracted 3,649 tweets that contained terms primarily used by incels (incel tweets) and 3,745 tweets that contained terms used to discuss the incel subculture (tweets about incels). They then explored how incel activity was related to three mating market factors — sex ratios, income inequality, and gender equity.
The results revealed that tweets containing language largely used by incels were more prevalent in commuting zones with a higher ratio of men to women and higher income inequality. Tweets containing language discussing incels were more common in zones with a higher male-to-female ratio, higher income inequality, fewer single women, and a smaller gender-income gap.
The researchers say these findings suggest that incel activity on social media is higher in areas where mating competition among men is amplified. For example, a shortage of women means that some men are left out of the mating market and that men with lower prospects face heightened competition. Income inequality may also increase competition among men since wealth and status determine mating success among men across many societies.
Importantly, the findings suggest that incel activity is not only related to local mating markets but that it can be detected through social media activity patterns. This suggests an opportunity to use social media trends to pinpoint places that would benefit from interventions aimed at reducing tensions and preventing violence led by young men.
“Phenomena such as online misogyny and incel violence have real-world consequences for incels and for individuals they harass or attack,” Brooks and his colleagues write. “These phenomena require as rich as possible an understanding, including an awareness of how they arise through thwarted motivations to partner, mate, and reproduce.”
As far as study limitations, the authors mention that their findings are preliminary and the evidence presented is correlational. It is also unclear whether the findings would replicate in cultures outside of the US.
The study, “Incel Activity on Social Media Linked to Local Mating Ecology”, was authored by Robert C. Brooks, Daniel Russo-Batterham, and Khandis R. Blake.