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Some people just want to watch the world burn: The prevalence, psychology and politics of the 'Need for Chaos'

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  • Kevin Arceneaux, Temple University
  • ,
  • Timothy B. Gravelle, SurveyMonkey
  • ,
  • Mathias Osmundsen
  • ,
  • Michael Bang Petersen
  • Jason Reifler, University of Exeter
  • ,
  • Thomas J. Scotto, University of Glasgow

People form political attitudes to serve psychological needs. Recent research shows that some individuals have a strong desire to incite chaos when they perceive themselves to be marginalized by society. These individuals tend to see chaos as a way to invert the power structure and gain social status in the process. Analysing data drawn from large-scale representative surveys conducted in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States, we identify the prevalence of Need for Chaos across Anglo-Saxon societies. Using Latent Profile Analysis, we explore whether different subtypes underlie the uni-dimensional construct and find evidence that some people may be motivated to seek out chaos because they want to rebuild society, while others enjoy destruction for its own sake. We demonstrate that chaos-seekers are not a unified political group but a divergent set of malcontents. Multiple pathways can lead individuals to 'want to watch the world burn'. This article is part of the theme issue 'The political brain: neurocognitive and computational mechanisms'.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20200147
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Author(s).

    Research areas

  • marginalization, Need for Chaos, personality, politics

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