This poorly understood community is about more than sexual rejection
Incels — or involuntary celibates — have become the subject of intense media attention in recent years. Since 2014, there has been a spate of violent attacks involving incels like Elliot Rodger and Alek Minassian, spawning an interest in this obscure and under-researched internet subculture.
The incel community (or inceldom) is primarily comprised of lonely young man who gather online to discuss their feelings of romantic rejection. But, according to new research, incels are not — despite their name — ‘exclusively rejected sexually; rather, sexual rejection is just one of many forms of social exclusion that they experience’. In fact, on a range of differing mental and health metrics, incels score far higher than non-incels, giving a more rounded picture of this poorly understood community:
Based on a small sample of undergraduates at an unnamed institution in the Canadian Prairies, researchers interviewed 67 self-identified incels alongside a group of 103 non-incel males. Interestingly, it was taken during the Covid-19 pandemic, where enforced lifestyle changes (more time indoors, fewer social interactions etc.) might actually have reduced the differences between the two groups. This was, after all, a period in which rates of depression, anxiety, and isolation were seen across general populations.
But as the chart shows, incels score higher on almost every emotion metric, ranging from ‘fear of being single’ to different forms of anxiety. It is worth mentioning that the chart represents average scores across each measure, which can vary based on the number of items in each scale and response options, but the differences between incels and non-incels are stark.
What the researchers go on to find is that only two metrics uniquely predicted incel group membership: avoidant attachment and perceived mate value. Avoidant attachment types are typically highly independent and uncomfortable with intimacy, which is a major reason for why incels struggle to build relationships with women. In turn, the researchers warn that this can lead to woman-hatred, where incels depict women as ‘devious’ or ‘conniving’ — ‘a somewhat ironic twist, given the reluctance of avoidantly attached persons to form close emotional bonds’. Perceived mate value (or lack thereof), which relates to the self-esteem metric, is a well-documented characteristic of inceldom too.
“These findings correspond with my own from talking to hundreds of incels over the years,” says Naama Kates, creator of the Incel podcast. “It’s worth noting that insecure attachment (anxious or avoidant) are associated with personality disorders too,” another area where incels are disproportionately represented. “Incels have trouble forming healthy attachments while simultaneously valuing them very much, and it causes a great deal of distress,” Kates adds. “Maybe understanding this can inform a better response to their grievances than ‘Get a better personality and stop harassing women, you evil inkwell’”.