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A groundbreaking study has discovered the complex relationship between mental health, a shared worldview and the social networking of involuntary celibate (incel) communities. 

The Commission for Countering Extremism (CCE) commissioned the Swansea University Research on the Incel Community (SURIC) to produce this report. This is the largest global study of incels to date. 

The research was conducted by Swansea University’s Dr Joe Whittaker Senior Lecturer in Cyber Threats, Dr Andrew Thomas, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, and William Costello, Honorary Research Assistant.

Key findings:

  • Incel harm is more closely aligned to their mental health status than their only networking, suggesting alternative routes to intervention than counter terrorist measures.
  • Mental Health: Incels typically display extremely poor mental health, with high incidences of depression and suicidal thoughts (one in five incels contemplated self-harm every day for the past two weeks). They are also more likely to be neurodivergent, with a higher likelihood of diagnosis for autism spectrum disorder.
  • Attitudes and Beliefs: Participants perceived high levels of discrimination, anger, and misogyny. They acknowledged a shared worldview among incels which includes identifying feminists as a primary enemy. They also identified the political (far) left, wider society and women as enemies.
  • Approval of violence: There exists a small cohort (5%) who ‘endorse the use of violence to defend their community. When asked if they justify violence against people that incels perceive as causing harm to them, 5% of respondents said ‘Often’. Around 20% said “Sometimes”.
  • Political beliefs: Many commentators have suggested a link between incels and the far right. However, this survey found that incels were politically centre-left on average. The exception was the 5% who agreed that violence against individuals that that cause incels harm is often justified; these individuals were politically centre-right.
  • Predicting harm: Mental Health and adoption of incel Ideology were significantly more likely to predict the development of harmful views than Social Networking (time spent networking with other incels).

Commissioner for Countering Extremism, Robin Simcox said: “What incels truly think and believe has been the source of consistent speculation and conjecture. However, all of us – including those who work in counter extremism – should be led by the evidence.

“This study is the most exhaustive research into incels yet and provides a major challenge to conventional wisdoms on the topic. It is no surprise to see the authors uncovered alarming and unacceptable attitudes of misogyny and hatred towards women from incels.

“However, the report’s findings suggest that adopting a security or counter-terrorism lens towards incels is not often going to be the most appropriate response. Neither is scaremongering about them forming part of a global extreme right-wing threat.

“Where there is a risk of violence, the appropriate authorities must always be informed. However, finding ways to ensure this desperate, depressed cohort of men, often with poor mental health, are integrated into society and given appropriate support should also be a key part of any response.”

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