Last week, a violent mob of Trump supporters stormed the United States Capitol, seeking to delay certification of the 2020 presidential election results. The riot failed to achieve its goal, and dozens have been arrested and charged. Why did so many people risk their safety, their employment, and tarnish their criminal record for the purpose of harming others? One potential factor at play may be the infectious nature of spite.
Spite is a puzzling human behavior. It’s the act of causing harm to another while gaining no benefit for one’s self. And although it is costly to all involved, a new study finds that it is also highly contagious.
In a paper published yesterday in Nature Communications, Northeastern researchers provide a novel explanation for how spiteful behavior originates and spreads. Using a computational model that simulates human interactions, researchers observed spite spread throughout a dynamic network until every “agent” became spiteful, and cooperation ceased entirely.
Traditionally, mathematical models of human behavior have lacked an important component: they aren’t dynamic, meaning the simulated actors don’t behave like real people do within real social circles. Old models were built on a uniform population that interacted randomly. This kept the math simple but made the network interactions unrealistic. The new dynamic model used in the study allows agents to choose whom they mingle with, like people do in real life.