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Levels of Well-Being Among Men Who Are Incel (Involuntarily Celibate)

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Abstract

Incels (involuntary celibates) are a subculture community of men who build their identity around their perceived inability to form sexual or romantic relationships. To address the dearth of primary data collected from incels, this study compared a sample (n = 151) of self-identified male incels with similarly aged non-incel males (n = 378) across a range of measures related to mental well-being. We also examined the role of sociosexuality and tendency for interpersonal victimhood as potential moderators of incel status and its links with mental health. Compared to non-incels, incels were found to have a greater tendency for interpersonal victimhood, higher levels of depression, anxiety and loneliness, and lower levels of life satisfaction. As predicted, incels also scored higher on levels of sociosexual desire, but this did not appear to moderate the relationship between incel status and mental well-being. Tendency for interpersonal victimhood only moderated the relationship between incel self-identification and loneliness, yet not in the predicted manner. These novel findings are some of the earliest data based on primary responses from self-identified incels and suggest that incels represent a newly identified “at-risk” group to target for mental health interventions, possibly informed by evolutionary psychology. Potential applications of the findings for mental health professionals as well as directions for future research are discussed.

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Data Availability

Code: https://github.com/vrolo001/psych_of_incels.

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Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

This research was initially undertaken as part of the lead author’s dissertation during his MSc in Psychology, Culture, and Evolution at Brunel University 2021. DS acted as dissertation supervisor throughout the project. WC: conceptualization, data curation, formal analysis, methodology, investigation, project administration, writing (original draft). VR: data curation, formal analysis, methodology, writing (original draft, review and editing). AT: supervision, formal analysis, writing (original draft, review and editing). DS: supervision, conceptualization, writing (review and editing).

Corresponding author

Correspondence to William Costello.

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Ethics Approval and Consent to Participate

Ethical approval for this study was approved by the Brunel University London Ethics Approval Board.

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All authors have provided their consent for publication.

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Not applicable.

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Appendices

Appendix 1. Characteristics of the Incelosphere

Beyond our main hypotheses, we ran exploratory analyses comparing incel and non-incel men on variables such as living with self-reported mental and physical conditions, education, employment status, living arrangements, political affiliation, relationship seeking, adherence to blackpill ideology, belief in the permanency of inceldom, and attitudes toward having cosmetic surgery. These results are reported in the supplementary materials.

  1. (i)

    Categorical variables

    Greater proportions of incel men reported living with a clinically undiagnosed (24%) mental condition than would be expected by chance, compared to 12.73% of non-incel men, respectively, X2(2) = 22.57, p < 0.001 (see Table 6). While similar proportions of incel and non-incel men held an undergraduate degree, a greater proportion of incel men (36%) than would be expected by chance had a secondary (high school) level education or lower, compared to 19.89% of non-incel men, X2(2) = 18.29, p < 0.001 (Table 8). More incels (17.33%) than non-incels (9.02%) also reported being NEET (not in education, employment or training), X2(1) = 6.55, p = 0.01 (see Table 9). Regarding living arrangements, a smaller proportion of incels than expected were cohabiting with either a housemate or romantic partner (13.79%), and a significantly greater proportion were living with parents or a caregiver (50.34%), compared to 44.74% and 26.95% of non-incels, respectively, X2(2) = 46.68, p < 0.001 (see Table 10). A significantly smaller proportion of incels were white (63.58%) compared to the proportion of white non-incels (75.13%), while the proportion of BIPOC (black, indigenous, or people of color) incels was greater than the proportion of BIPOC non-incels (36.42% vs 24.87%), X2(1) = 6.56, p = 0.01 (see Appendix 2/Table 11).

  2. (ii)

    Continuous variables

    Independent sample t tests revealed no political orientation differences between incel (M = 2.94, SD = 1.44) and non-incel men (M = 2.93, SD = 1.41), t(486) = 0.01, p = 0.99, 95%BootCI [− 0.27, 0.28] on a 5-point political orientation item (where 1 = left wing and 5 = right wing). Looking at single men only, incels (M = 3.33, SD = 1.44) reported greater relationship seeking than did non-incels (M = 2.77, SD = 1.32), t(302) = 3.55, p < 0.001, 95%BootCI [0.25, 0.88] d = 0.41, Power = 0.97 on a 5-point item (where 1 = definitely not seeking a romantic relationship and 5 = definitely seeking). One-sample t tests revealed no significant difference from µ = 3 (neither agree or disagree) regarding subjective perception of increased well-being for incels who used forums, or from µ = 3 (neutral) regarding adherence to the blackpill ideology. However, the incel sample mean for belief in permanency of inceldom (M = 3.38, SD = 1.00) was significantly different from µ = 3 (not sure), t(136) = 4.44, p < 0.001, d = 0.38, indicating a general belief among incels that their situation will be permanent.

  3. (iii)

    Which incels are faring better?

    We explored the effects of greater weekly porn frequency, forum membership (0 = not a member of any incel forums, 1 = member of at least one incel forum), and blackpill and inceldom permanency beliefs (two 5-point items with greater scores reflecting greater endorsement of these beliefs) on the mental well-being measures of incels (i.e., excluding non-incels from these specific analyses). Belief in permanent inceldom significantly predicted mean depression scores (b = 0.16, SE = 0.08, p = 0.04), while weekly porn frequency was a marginally significant predictor (b = 0.03, SE = 0.01, p = 0.07). Forum membership predicted mean anxiety (b = 0.38, SE = 0.18, p = 0.04), with greater blackpill belief as a marginal predictor (b = 0.12, SE = 0.07, p = 0.08). There were no significant or marginal predictors for mean loneliness. Finally, belief in permanent inceldom negatively predicted satisfaction with life (b =  − 0.35, SE = 0.15, p = 0.02), while a one-sample t test revealed no significant difference from µ = 3 (neither agree or disagree) regarding subjective perception of increased well-being for incels who used forums.

Appendix 2

Table 4 Contingency table for depression categories for incel and non-incel men. Bonferroni corrections set the new alpha criterion at 0.005 and the new critical value at |2.81|
Table 5 Contingency table for anxiety categories for incel and non-incel men. Bonferroni corrections set the new alpha criterion at 0.006 and the new critical value at |2.73|
Table 6 Contingency table for incel and non-incel men with self-reported mental conditions. Bonferroni corrections set the new alpha criterion at 0.008 and the new critical value at |2.64|
Table 7 Contingency table for education among incel and non-incel men. Bonferroni corrections set the new alpha criterion at 0.008 and the new critical value at |2.64|
Table 8 Contingency table for employment among incel and non-incel men. Bonferroni corrections set the new alpha criterion at 0.01 and the new critical value at |2.50|
Table 9 Contingency table for living arrangements for incel and non-incel men. Bonferroni corrections set the new alpha criterion at 0.008 and the new critical value at |2.64|
Table 10 Contingency table for ethnic background among incel and non-incel men. Bonferroni corrections set the new alpha criterion at 0.01 and the new critical value at |2.50|
Table 11 Observed counts and percentages of incel and non-incel men who identify as right-leaning, center, and left-leaning. Participants who identified as right wing or center right were aggregated to create the right-leaning group. Conversely, those who identified as left wing or center left came to form the left-leaning group. An independent sample t test using the original 1–5 scores found no differences between incels (M = 2.93, SD = 1.44) and non-incels (M = 2.93, SD = 1.41), t(486) = 0.01, p = 0.99, 95%BootCI [− 0.27, 0.28]

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Costello, W., Rolon, V., Thomas, A.G. et al. Levels of Well-Being Among Men Who Are Incel (Involuntarily Celibate). Evolutionary Psychological Science 8, 375–390 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40806-022-00336-x

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