The science of the London riots

Those protesters who felt themselves to be in the same group as Duggan were quick to rise to violence. However, strangely, the members of that group don’t fit any specific category.

“The thing that’s so distinctive about the London riots … and different from past riots that behavioral scientists have written about, is that the convergence of rioters now is of heterogeneous actors, with different motives: some acting on political motives, others to loot, still others to engage in wild and crazy behavior,” Goode wrote in an email. “So it’s difficult to theorize about similar behavior … that is caused by very different impulses.”

Simon Moore, a researcher with the Violence & Society Research Group at Cardiff University in Wales, thinks there’s one factor that may be uniting all the rioters: The perception that they have low status. In research he conducted last year with colleagues at the University of Warwick, Moore found that low economic rank — being poorer than others in the same geographic region — rather than actual poverty, which is defined as not being able to afford things you need, elicits misery.