Conference Contribution Details
Mandatory Fields
King, R. J., Dickins, T., Pawson, C., & Spencer, R. (2012).
George Akerloff Social Behaviour Conference
Behavioral ecology analysis of the UK 2011 riots
London School of Economics
Invited Lectures (Conference)
Optional Fields

Title: Reading the Riot Acts

Robert King ,Thomas E. Dickins, Chris Pawson, Robert Spencer


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Objectives The social and behavioural sciences should be expected to contribute both theoretical analysis, and practical suggestions concerning the recent UK riots. However, little of practical import has yet been offered. Useful qualitative analysis (e.g., Rowntree, 2011) of those involved has shown attitudes that constitute only a foreground, proximate explanation of behaviour. We seek to provide depth of theoretical understanding and practical policy suggestions by applying biological principles to these behaviours.


Methods Violence is typically seen as anti-social but much rioting was highly pro-social with coalitions formed and new outgroups and ingroups established. For example, some gang enmities were overcome. The use of new media such as Blackberries to aid in this, should not obscure the fact that coalitional violence is an ancient facultative strategy. Analysis drawing on foraging and coalitional models derived from behavioural ecology sees violence as facultative when the potential trade-offs, low risk versus high reward, are sufficient. Using these insights we analyse data from the recent riots drawn from arrest, background and sentencing reports using such models.


Results We show that--as life history theory predicts--risk-taking behaviours make sense against a background of cues to highly unequal life-history outcomes. Much of the rioting was highly coalitional and can be understood in pro-social (in group) terms.


Conclusions Implications to policy makers—such as reducing inequality and outgroup cues are discussed. E.g., while increasing potential costs of riotous behaviour through highly punitive responses may work to some extent--this will carry costs of its own--especially if this contributes towards background cues of unfairness that drive such behaviour. In addition,  energies and attitudes shown by rioters could be redirected into personally and socially profitable areas.