- Experts struggle to address the root causes behind why young men may be drawn to the incel movement.
- A recent study found that incels experience more loneliness and less social support than non-incel men.
- Other research has shown that men who scored high on incel traits were more likely to be depressed, anxious, or paranoid.
Incels are men who feel they are involuntarily celibate, and many blame women for their lack of sexual and or romantic success. Despite psychological research delving into the incel phenomenon, we still struggle to address the root causes behind why many young men are drawn to this.
Here are two insights that can help us put this in perspective. Also, there are other related movements such as men’s rights activism (MRAs), men who go their own way (MGTOWs), and father's rights groups.
1. Young men who subscribe to the incel movement tend to be marginalized
In a 2022 interview with British journalist Piers Morgan, Jordan Peterson, a controversial Canadian psychologist, was asked if he considers himself the “intellectual hero” of the incel community.
Peterson replied, “It’s very difficult to understand how demoralized people are, and certainly, many young men are in that category. They don’t know how to make themselves attractive to women who tend to be picky, and rightly so. But these men are lonesome, and everyone piles abuse on them.”
A recent study published in Current Psychology found that incels experience more loneliness and less social support than non-incel men. This is associated with multiple mental health and relational difficulties. When these lonely men find an online community that seems to “understand” them by virtue of shared experiences, they flock to it for a sense of belonging.
At the core of the incel community is a sense of inferiority and sexual and romantic insignificance, which can manifest itself in the form of hatred toward women. These men believe women are directly responsible for their problems. This can lead to further marginalization.
To address this, it is vital to re-examine how we, as a society, treat those who may feel unattractive or otherwise unseen by the opposite gender. The widespread mocking, bullying, meme-ifying, and othering of those who are lonely needs to be curbed—and a supportive approach toward self-improvement needs to become the norm.
This is not to say that everyone who feels marginalized turns to these communities for support. The incel community may attract people with certain pre-existing tendencies, which can lead to the next point.
2. Incels often struggle with serious, unaddressed mental health conditions
A new study published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine found that men who scored high on incel traits were also likely to be depressed, anxious, and paranoid individuals. Moreover, the same men were found to be more likely (compared to those who scored low on incel traits) to possess a fearful attachment style. The study also found that scoring high on scales measuring paranoia, depression, and a fearful attachment style could predict the emergence of incel traits.
In one interview, the lead author of the study, Dr. Giacomo Ciocca noted that health professionals and psychologists should be trained to assess these traits.
Recognizing these traits in people who come to therapy with romance-linked depressive, anxious, or paranoid symptoms may hold the key to better understanding. Some men may be less likely to respond to therapeutic intervention, which they may see as a means to control them and subjugate them into becoming docile “beta” males.
The study also found that a secure attachment style could potentially protect individuals who may score high on paranoia and depression from subscribing to an incel mindset.
This group of men struggles with mental health issues. Prior to joining the movement, these men are likely to have been marginalized and they view the community as an uplifting one without realizing that they are digging themselves deeper into unattractiveness and despair. Greater investment in preventative mental health—providing counseling, support, and resources for marginalized individuals—is the best way to stay in front of the issue.
Sparks B, Zidenberg AM, Olver ME. Involuntary Celibacy: A Review of Incel Ideology and Experiences with Dating, Rejection, and Associated Mental Health and Emotional Sequelae. Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2022 Dec
Halpin, M. (2022). Weaponized Subordination: How Incels Discredit Themselves to Degrade Women. Gender & Society, 36(6), 813–837.