The Pick-Up Community and Young Men’s Mental Health
A new study reveals the surprising secrets of young male pick-up artists.
Posted Mar 11, 2020
A cross-national community of like-minded young men has emerged in recent years, ostensibly dedicated to learning techniques and mindsets that can improve their success with women, or game. This is also known as the seduction community.
This community is led by professional pick-up artist (PUA) instructors who teach game to eager young men through a variety of products. These include in-person seminars, on-line courses and three-day bootcamps.
Most major cities regularly host well-attended bootcamps and also contain PUA inner circles (or lairs), where young men meet together regularly to discuss and practice various aspects of game.
The pick-up industry was recently estimated to be worth over $100 million, and tens of thousands of young men are involved. For example, Julien Blanc, an in-demand PUA instructor, has a YouTube channel with over 140,000 subscribers and 15 million views.
Research on the Seduction Community
Interestingly, there has been little research on the ordinary rank-and-file young men participating in the seduction community, despite its popularity.
As such, myself and my student, Jacky Zhou, conducted an in-depth study, interviewing 34 young men involved in the community, while spending considerable time ‘hanging out’ with community members. We also attended and observed local lair meetings, bootcamps and other game-related activity; all with the aim of understanding why men join this underground community, and what impact it has on them.
Our academic paper describing the study was published last month in the scientific journal PLOS ONE, and I recently presented the findings in a lecture at University College London, which can be seen in the video below:
Why Do Men Join the Community?
Interestingly, men in the study commonly disclosed several poignant reasons why they joined the community, many of which are only tangentially related to sex and seduction.
To start, loneliness was a core driver for participation in the community. Many participants reported having few or no friends, describing themselves as introverts, shy, nerds, awkward or socially anxious. For example, one study participant noted that:
I was always awkward and lonely all my life. So I was looking, at some point I was like “F***! There must be an answer, like f***!” So I look on the internet…I went on a pick-up channel and was like, okay I can learn. Like at the time I was not interested in girls at all…I just want to use that in a way to learn how to make friends.
Another common reason for joining the community was a lack of male role models, as well as a need for guidance and mentorship on ‘how to be a man.' Indeed, many participants poignantly described the absence of fathers from their lives due to bereavement, divorce, dislocation, or other factors. This led some men to join the community to help fill these deficits, as seen below:
My parents divorced when I was five. I went to live with my mom. I would see my father every second weekend…and he passed away when I was a teenager, which was a big turning point in my life…I never had any like masculine role model or mentor that would teach me…
Interestingly, the seduction community offers considerable content devoted to the acquisition of social and communication skills. Indeed, cultivating such skills is considered a key aspect of improving one’s game. Participants often noted that they joined the community in a conscious effort to acquire such skills and address the aforementioned issues of shyness, loneliness, and anxiety, as noted below:
I was raised by a single mom so I never really learned, I never had a fatherly figure, I was clueless with social skills. I mean I had so much trouble making friends cuz I switched countries when I was young…I had no guidance, so I figured out about the game and I was like ‘let’s look at this free method and learn some techniques!’
What is the Impact of Community Involvement?
Interestingly, participants generally reported that their involvement in the community led to a range of psychosocial benefits that helped address the underlying issues previously described. For example, one participant stated:
I think I'm much less guarded, less shy, more open, I feel less inwardly focused, more expansive…The first year I was in this city, I didn't have many friends. Now, I think I have more abilities to relate to people and have fun times with people.
Similarly, participants generally reported that they gained valuable new social and communication skills within the community, which were used for reasons far beyond sex and seduction. For example, one emphatically noted that ‘everything you learn from it is applicable everywhere else…so I think of it as just a super good social training…it totally extends beyond sex,' while another stated, 'It’s a process that helps you in all aspects of your life, in the end it helps for everything, it’s really complete. It’s not just for the girls’. This is encapsulated in words of a study participant below:
My life sort of took a 360 – even a 720 if you could. I signed up to the gym. I have lots of new friends, people who actually care. They call, "How are you?" Not just girls – guys and people I meet at work. I would say it is a complete 360. I’m a completely different person now. I don’t have anxiety anymore, I don’t feel depressed. I am friendlier, I am happier, I’m more willing to help other people. I’m no longer the pathetic guy that sits around and says ‘why me?’
The Dark Side of Pick-Up
Importantly, many participants reported a dark side to their involvement in the seduction community. For example, some reported that they became ‘addicted,' spending large amounts of time and energy engaging in game-related activities. This sometimes interfered with their employment and education, as described in the quote below from someone who had recently disengaged from the community:
This had a really positive effect in my professional life, in my social life, outside of girls, and in my self-confidence…but the thing with PUA is that it takes a lot of time, it did take a toll on my studies at university. So I’m super happy I got out of it. Get out of it once you’ve reached that potential, it’s diminishing returns after that…
Another dark side reflects well-documented concerns that involvement in pick-up can harm other people, particularly the women being gamed. For example, some men noted that involvement in the community can objectify others, with one participant stating, ‘I’ve seen it have the effect on some people where game teaches that men are competition and women are objects, you know. It objectifies women, demonizes men.' Others built on this theme, with one participant stating:
At the end I saw women as like objects; I saw women as like treats, I saw women as like nothing really, like nothing. I dismissed completely their emotions. That’s why I stopped; I didn’t continue, yep. That’s why I didn’t continue, because I realized if I continued I’d be like wrecking some girls, you know. I didn’t want to do that.
The study reveals that men often join the community to address a range of psychosocial deficits, and that involvement helps equip participants with a range of valued social and communication skills. That said, there can be a dark side to community involvement, meaning it can not be blindly recommended as a solution for ‘clueless’ young men.
Nature abhors a vacuum. It may be that a growing number of shy, lonely, and anxious young men are flocking to the seduction community in the absence of other services and supports that can improve their well-being and foster positive mental health.
Indeed, the results point to the importance of providing innovative and tailored programs that can help shy, lonely, and anxious young men make a successful transition to adulthood. Such programs can build on some of the helpful elements identified in this study, minus the emphasis on sex and seduction. For example, new programs could be male-led and male-focused, focusing on skill acquisition, peer support, and positive mentorship.
There is much to learn from this study. Simply berating men for joining the seduction community indicates a lack of awareness of the underlying psychosocial issues driving them into this community. Moreover, failing to provide alternative male-friendly services and supports means that PUA programs of questionable morality will flourish as an alternative.
Research indicates that young men represent an underserved demographic. Indeed, a recent scientific review paper from the University of Melbourne notes that "boys and young men have unique health-related needs that may be poorly met by existing programs and initiatives."
This has to change if we are serious about improving the oft-ignored well-being and mental-health issues experienced by a growing number of young men in society.
Whitley R, Zhou J (2020) Clueless: An ethnographic study of young men who participate in the seduction community with a focus on their psychosocial well-being and mental health. PLoS ONE 15(2): e0229719. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229719