Title: Reading the Riot Acts
Robert King ,Thomas E. Dickins, Chris Pawson, Robert Spencer
Contact Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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.