Incels need more mental health help – Swansea University report

Men who identify as incels have “fundamental thinking errors” about what women want, research shows.

A study at Swansea University found incels – or involuntary celibates – overestimated physical attractiveness and finances, while underestimating kindness, humour and loyalty.

The study’s co-author Andrew Thomas said “thinking errors” could “lead us down some quite troubling paths”.

He said mental health support was crucial, as opposed to “demonisation”.

The term refers to a community, largely online, of mainly heterosexual men frustrated by their inability to form romantic or sexual relationships.

The idea dates back more than 30 years and was popularised by a website offering support for lonely people who felt left behind.

The study, pioneered by masters student William Costello, asked 151 incels and 149 non-incels from around the world about their own relationship preferences, as well as what they perceived women’s were.

It found “thinking errors” which lead to an increasing likelihood of aligning with problematic ideologies and that incels make “fundamental errors about what females look for in a romantic partner”.

The authors also claimed the study showed incels were younger, more ethnically diverse and more politically left-leaning than previously reported.

Dr Thomas, a senior lecturer in psychology, said: “Incels have come into public consciousness in the last couple of years and really there is a lot of assumptions floating around, particularly about their opinions towards women.”

He said incels were also found to have lower standards for partners compared with non-incels than is widely assumed.

“There’s not a lot of people going and speaking to incels and getting their voices in this,” said Dr Thomas.

“People are saying that the reason that incels struggle to find relationships and sex is because their standards are too high, and what we were able to demonstrate here is, compared to our group of men that weren’t incel, actually their minimum mate preferences were a lot lower.

“At least that’s what they told us anyway.”

He said incels struggled with “understanding the desires of the opposite sex” which could lead to things like “confirmation bias”.

“Once you overestimate in your mind the importance of physical attractiveness to women, and underestimate the influence of kindness, you start looking for evidence that confirms that world view,” he said.

There was also a tendency for incels to display mental health issues.

He said incel mental health was “through the floor”, with 20% having daily thoughts of suicide and high levels of loneliness.

In addition, he said a quarter would be offered immediate antidepressants or therapy if they completed an NHS depression screening form.

Dr Thomas, who is also a psychotherapist, said tailored mental health support for incels was crucial.

“If you want to break the cycle, we need to be getting these guys mental health support because when they don’t care about themselves, they’re… not going to care about other people.”

The study’s findings were published in the Journal of Sex Research.

Andrew Tate is a self-proclaimed “misogynist” who rose to fame after he was removed from reality TV show Big Brother in 2016 over a video that appeared to show him attacking a woman.

He accrued more than 6.9 million followers on X, formerly known as Twitter, but currently faces rape and human trafficking charges in Romania.

Some incel forums are known for displaying misogyny, hate speech, and violence and have been linked to ideologies about women promoted by influencers like Tate.

Dr Thomas said these people were actually generally derogatory of incels, who they would label “losers” or similar.

But he said many incels could be more vulnerable than non-incels when it came to being influenced by ideologies.

He said: “If you look at incels who have committed extreme acts of violence, a lot of the time when you scratch beneath the surface, they tend to either be pretending that they’re incel, or it’s not the number one factor motivating their actions.”

He said the incel community had “a weird relationship with people like Andrew Tate”.

“I don’t believe they hold him up as an ideal, it’s probably more ‘he’s a sexually successful male and I’m not like that’,” he said.

He added they had also observed a “bidirectional relationship between mental health and incel ideology”.

“So the worse an incel’s mental health is, the more they seem to then buy into ideology,” he said.


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