Vol. XXXI, Issue 4
Fall 2019
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Registration and disclosure: Lessons learned or same old song and dance?
International members survey 2018 part 1: Practitioner knowledge, training and experience
International members survey 2018 part 2: Practitioners attitudes to and understandings of community integration
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): Exploring a new avenue for sex offender treatment
Incel inside: Understanding involuntary celibates through dating app experiences
International Perspectives on the Assessment and Treatment of Sexual Offenders
Learning Difficulties and Sexual Vulnerability: A Social Approach
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Heather M. Moulden, Ph.D.
Forensic Program
St. Joseph's Healthcare
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
E: hmoulden@stjoes.ca
P: (905) 522-1155 ext. 35539
Incel inside: Understanding involuntary celibates through dating app experiences
Brandon Sparks

On April 23, 2018, Alek Minassian drove a rented van into a crowd of pedestrians on a busy Toronto street, killing 10 and injuring 16 others. Hours before the attack, the 25-year-old posted on Facebook that “The Incel Rebellion has already begun!” This was followed by praise for “Supreme Gentleman” Elliot Rodger, the young man behind the 2014 Isla Vista killings, who wrote a lengthy manifesto prior to his death expressing his desire to seek retribution on women for rejecting him and on sexually active men whom he envied. Seemingly overnight, a small, obscure subgroup of the internet became the subject of considerable attention. Incels, short for involuntary celibates, are a group of largely heterosexual men whose common ground revolves around their rejection by women and a feeling that these same women are responsible for shutting them out of the dating and sexual “marketplace.”

While it is unfair to take the extreme examples of Minassian and Rodger and assume they represent the entire incel community, it does raise questions about the hostility that certain group members may hold. It also raises questions about why a small number of people respond to rejection – a universal experience – by joining incel communities, given their negative reputation. With respect to thwarting one’s romantic or sexual advances, it has been argued that, within the dating context, the traditional male over female hierarchy is reversed, which may precipitate violent male reactions (Buss, 2007). Indeed, Kelly, Dubbs, and Barlow (2015) note that men higher in social dominance orientation (SDO; support for current societal hierarchies) respond more aggressively and violently following romantic rejection than those low in SDO. It has also been noted that men respond more aggressively to rejection from sexualized women as a result of the latter’s activation of sex goals (Blake, Bastian, & Denson, 2008). In other words, men’s enhanced aggression was due, in part, to increases in their desire for or expectation of a romantic or sexual engagement. Within the context of marriage, the more time a wife spends with other men, the more anger and frustration the husbands express when their sexual advances are rejected (DeLucce, Barbaro, Mohamedally, & Shackleford, 2017). There have also been multiple qualitative analyses of the aggressive responses women have faced when dismissing men’s advances via text messages, which were uploaded to social media accounts dedicated to the phenomenon (e.g., Bye Felipe, Tinder Nightmares; Shaw, 2016; Thompson, 2018). Based on these (and other) studies, it is clear that when faced with rejection, some men tend to respond poorly.

With this is mind, it is perhaps not surprising that individuals who share similar experiences of rejection (and reactions to it) may seek one another out. However, to answer some of the above questions requires a well-developed body of literature, of which there currently is none. With the recent quarantining of select incel groups on Reddit, it is even difficult to determine the prevalence of incels. Nevertheless, the subreddit r/IncelsWithoutHate has over 9,400 members, while r/AskAnIncel has over 3,400 members. The website incels.co has just under 10,000 registered members and over 1.9 million messages on its main series of threads. Given that these platforms are all based online, it is perhaps natural to conclude that the internet has facilitated these connections. Such conclusions would be difficult to disprove, but also miss an important intersection between the digital age, incels, and rejection: dating apps.

Roughly one quarter of young adults have used a dating application, such as Tinder, which now boasts over 50 million users in the U.S. alone (Smith, 2016; Tinder, 2019). Available in more than 190 countries, Tinder reports that their users collectively go on 1 million dates per week. For those unfamiliar with dating apps, the premise is simple. Users create a profile, which can be linked to their social media accounts such as Facebook and Instagram, allowing for a seamless integration of select photos. Brief biographies may also be written, and settings such as age range for potential mates and a geographic range (which is linked with your phone’s GPS) complete the process. Following this, users are presented with profiles of other users, whom they can either swipe left (indicating a rejection) or swipe right (indicating an interest). Once two individuals have swiped right on one another, a match is announced in the app and they are permitted to message each other (note that some dating apps, such as Grindr, do not have this requirement).

As one can surmise, within the span of a few minutes, a user can download a dating app, set up a profile, and even find matches, all with the swipe of a finger. While this affords a convenience that is quite novel to the dating world – making even speed dating seem labour- and time-intensive – it is not without drawbacks. For instance, Choi, Wong, and Fong (2018) linked dating app usage with a greater risk of experiencing sexual abuse. Dating apps have also been associated with with high rates of unprotected sex (Choi, Wong, & Fong, 2017) and alcohol/drug use during sex (Landovitz et al., 2013). These are timely studies, given the concern that dating apps such as Tinder have fostered a convenient yet unsafe hook-up culture (Sales, 2015). However, the flip side to the efficiency with which people can find dates (or mates) has been largely ignored.

Perhaps at no point in human history have people been able to experience romantic rejection on a scale as massive as the one brought forth by dating apps. Although every user is bound to experience rejection, previous research on online dating has shown that when presented with an array of dating options, people often take shortcuts in their selection process. Specifically, users place greater emphasis on characteristics that are easy to evaluate, such as physical attractiveness, while experiential qualities that promote long-term positive outcomes (e.g., sense of humor, kindness) may be ignored (Frost, Chance, Norton, & Ariely, 2008). Finkel, Eastwick, Karney, Reid, and Sprecher (2012) argue at length on the consequences of such side-by-side comparisons, where “the next potential partner is a mere mouse-click away” (p. 31).

While Finkel and colleagues are more concerned about the propensity to find a complementary partner, their review does suggest that certain individuals (e.g., those not possessing obvious qualities) may experience a greater rate of rejection. This is a key component of the incel movement, whose members appear to both envy and loathe attractive (and assumedly sexually active) men that they term “Chads.” They often refer to evolutionary and personality psychology (there is an entire Wiki page, “Scientific Blackpill,” dedicated to this) to gain insight into their experiences of rejection, seeing themselves as biologically inferior to Chads. Thus, there is an interesting crossroads of seeing themselves as undesirable – a cold reality of natural selection, understanding some of the cognitive mechanisms and implicit biases that may exist in the dating sphere, and abhorring Chad’s female counterparts, “Stacies,” for not returning their sexual interest.

In order to best understand incels, there needs to be some foundation on which to build, and this is the focus of my current research. A poll posted on r/Braincels reported that roughly 90% of participants were under the age of 30, 80% of whom resided in Europe or North America. While informal, the poll does provide some description of incels, but does not address more central questions. For instance, are incels’ motivations for using dating apps different than the general public, and other men in particular? Are they more influenced by relationship-based self esteem or more sensitive to rejection? Can these and other variables (such as attachment) help explain any potential differences in their mental health or their (possibly violent) responses to acceptance and rejection via dating applications? The answer, hopefully, is yes. If not, perhaps researchers, much like dating app users, will have to keep swiping for a solution.


Blake, K. R., Bastian, B., & Denson, T. F. (2018). Heightened male aggression toward sexualized women following romantic rejection: The mediating role of sex goal activation. Aggressive Behavior, 44(1), 40-49.

Buss, D. M. (2007). The evolution of human mating strategies: Consequences for conflict and cooperation. In S. W. Gangestad & J. A. Simpson (Eds.), The evolution of mind: Fundamental questions and controversies (pp. 375-382). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Choi, E. P. H., Wong, J. Y. H., & Fong, D. Y. T. (2017). The use of social networking applications of smartphone and associated sexual risks in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender populations: A systematic review. AIDS care, 29(2), 145-155.

Choi, E. P. H., Wong, J. Y. H., & Fong, D. Y. T. (2018). An emerging risk factor of sexual abuse: the use of smartphone dating applications. Sexual Abuse,30(4), 343-366.

DeLecce, T., Barbaro, N., Mohamedally, D., & Shackelford, T. K. (2017). Husband’s reaction to his wife’s sexual rejection is predicted by the time she spends with her male friends but not her male coworkers. Evolutionary Psychology, 15(2), 1-5.

Finkel, E. J., Eastwick, P. W., Karney, B. R., Reis, H. T., & Sprecher, S. (2012). Online dating: A critical analysis from the perspective of psychological science. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 13(1), 3-66.

Frost, J. H., Chance, Z., Norton, M. I., & Ariely, D. (2008). People are experience goods: Improving online dating with virtual dates. Journal of Interactive Marketing, 22(1), 51-61.

Kelly, A. J., Dubbs, S. L., & Barlow, F. K. (2015). Social dominance orientation predicts heterosexual men’s adverse reactions to romantic rejection. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 44(4), 903-919.

Landovitz, R. J., Tseng, C. H., Weissman, M., Haymer, M., Mendenhall, B., Rogers, K., ... Shoptaw, S. (2013). Epidemiology, sexual risk behavior, and HIV prevention practices of men who have sex with men using GRINDR in Los Angeles, California. Journal of Urban Health, 90(4), 729-739.

Sales, N. J. (August 6, 2015). Tinder and the dawn of the “Dating Apocalypse.” Vanity Fair. https://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2015/08/tinder-hook-up-culture-end-of-dating

Shaw, F. (2016). “Bitch I said hi”: The Bye Felipe campaign and discursive activism in mobile dating apps. Social Media + Society, 2(4), 1-10.

Smith A. (2016). 15% of American adults have used online dating sites or mobile dating apps. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center.

Thompson, L. (2018). “I can be your Tinder nightmare”: Harassment and misogyny in the online sexual marketplace. Feminism & Psychology, 28(1), 69-89.

Tinder. (2019). Tinder. https://www.gotinder.com/press

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