Social inequality leads to vandalism in experiences


Newswise – Social inequalities can spur collective violence in an experimental setting, according to a new study by UCL researchers.

The project, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, was conceived in the aftermath of the 2011 London riots, as researchers sought to understand the origins of antisocial group behavior. The results are published today in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Lead researcher Professor Daniel C. Richardson (UCL Psychology & Language Sciences) said: “We sought to understand why people participate in riots, a behavior that can be considered societal self-harm; Typically, in riots, people damage their local environment while exposing themselves to the risk of injury or arrest, with nothing to gain from their actions.

“Different explanations for riots often fall into three camps: the ‘bad apple’ explanation that blames individual crime, the social identity explanation that rioters have a common problem and see collective action as a problem. means of change, and the explanation of relative deprivation where people see a gap between what they have and what they think they deserve.

“Our results added weight to the explanations of social identity and the relative deprivation of collective violence, while suggesting that individual criminality is not necessarily involved.”

In a series of 19 experiments with a total of 171 participants, two groups at a time played an interactive mobile game called Parklife where, as a team, they developed a virtual park.

Half the time the game was rigged in favor of one team, which became evident as both groups could see each team’s park displayed on a screen. When the underprivileged team noticed it, they got frustrated and then started vandalizing the other park. Vandalism was incorporated into the game as an option, but was self-destructive as it took time to improve the team’s own park. Underprivileged teams had to work twice as hard to build, but it was just as easy to vandalize for either team.

In the uneven matches, the underprivileged team vandalized the other team’s park characteristics more, while building less of their own characteristics, as they had instead diverted their efforts towards vandalism.

Participants only engaged in vandalism when other members of their team continued to create their own features, which the researchers said demonstrates spontaneous coordination of activities within the team (even if they were not. not allowed to talk to each other).

The researchers did not find that differences in personal attributes – such as political affiliation or social group – explained the rates of vandalism, although the researchers found that when people were made aware of the characteristics of their teammates, they reacted more strongly to inequality if they themselves believed they had things in common with their team.

Professor Richardson said: “Here we show that collective group behavior can emerge even with low social identification, i.e. when it is randomly assigned to a group of strangers.

“As we have not found any evidence that a particular personality or demographic is solely responsible for intergroup conflict, we find that collective violence is not only caused by particular types of people. Riots are made from situations, not types of people, which suggests that it would be wrong to demonize those involved in a riot instead of investigating the root causes.

“Instead, we found that inequalities between groups have a direct causal effect on intergroup conflict, suggesting that reducing economic inequalities could play a role in maintaining public safety.

“Next, we hope to study how people may react to experiences of social inequality in different ways depending on their own social background and life histories.”

Catherine Dennison, Wellness Program Manager at the Nuffield Foundation, said: “Using innovative methods, this research helps us better understand what influences collective violence and how inequalities can shape people’s behavior. This adds to the growing evidence base on the impacts of inequalities on people’s outcomes, including their health, education, and overall well-being.


The study, conducted by researchers from UCL and Clermont Auvergne University, CNRS, LAPSCO (France), was funded by the Nuffield Foundation with the support of an international scholarship from the Newton Academy and the ‘National Research Agency of the French government.


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