digitalwellbeing.orgHow to thrive in our hyper-connected world

Will Smith, Chris Rock, and viral copycat psychology

Prediction: There will be a rise in physical assault cases in the US in the first half of April 2022, as a consequence of the viral clip of Will Smith hitting Chris Rock at the 2022 Oscars ceremony.

Psychologists understand the ‘copycat effect‘ as ‘behavioural contagion‘, which happens when someone who is exposed to a particular behaviour (such as violent behaviour), becomes more likely to elicit a similar behaviour themselves. Evidence suggests that behavioural contagion is commonplace and can be amplified through sensationalist online and media coverage. For example, US national suicide rates jumped 12% in the weeks following high profile media coverage of Marilyn Monroe’s suicide.

So, as video snippets spread online of Will Smith hitting Chris Rock at the 2022 Oscar ceremony last night, we can expect behavioural contagion to happen, and this will be visible as a spike in assault cases over the next few weeks.

Online behavioural contagion was the topic of my PhD, in which I explored the evidence and psychology behind this contagion effect.

The short-hand explanation is that online behavioural contagion happens because of what can be called behavioural licensing‘ – people can use media representations, particularly those involving celebrities, or those we admire – e.g. a viral clip of Will Smith hitting Chris Rock – as a ‘script’ to follow if they find themselves in a similar situation, and are conflicted about how to respond. It’s a special case of role modelling, in which people can feel ‘licensed to hit’ as media representations prime and legitimatise a script to follow in ambiguous situations. The result is ‘disinhibition’ – as we feel less inhibited about taking a particular course of action, such as hitting someone.

In plain language, just as James Bond is licensed to kill, Will Smith has licensed people to hit.

Psychology aside, expect to see more reports of male violence over the next few days and weeks, and expect to see more male violence yourself. Specifically, expect more violent reactions to partners being insulted, particularly among men who might identify with Will Smith.

So, think twice before spreading the viral clip online.

Written by
Dr Paul Marsden
Join the discussion

  • Chris Rock just proved that a lot of people sometimes have absolutely no idea who they are dealing with and what can happen in the next moment and you need to control your words, and jokes about your hair just shows that as a comedian you’re over and have long, fully deserved it.

  • That explains why many of us mistakenly mimic other people’s motions when we photograph them. This impact has both positive and negative consequences. However, I believe that the negative impact is substantially greater. Many individuals utilize it to control the crowd and exploit them for ill.

  • This is a case of toxic masculinity, where the man has to “defend” his partner’s honor. Being real masculine would have been A: Chris not making a joke about another man’s wife and B: Will simply telling him that wasn’t okay.

  • Days after the board’s meeting to start the disciplinary process against him, he resigned. Whether Smith was asked to leave the awards ceremony after hitting Rock is still up for debate.

  • I really appreciate this wonderful post you’ve written for us. I’m really impressed by your site and the topic you’ve chosen. It’s fantastic.

  • Hello I am so delighted I found your website, I really located you by mistake, while I was looking on google for something else, Anyways I am here now and could just like to say cheers for a tremendous post and an all-around entertaining blog. Please keep up the great work.

  • Pretty good article. I just stumbled across your blog and wanted to say that I really enjoy reading your blog posts. I hope you will post again soon. Thank you very much for the useful information.

  • The computer game FNAF is based on a fictional narrative in which five children mysteriously disappear from Freddy’s Pizza.

  • I had a lot of harvest after seeing this post of yours! Before, I used to play games, this is a fun game for entertainment, but now I will follow you, read your articles will have more knowledge.

  • people can use media representations, particularly those involving celebrities, or those we admire – e.g. a viral clip of Will Smith hitting Chris Rock – as a ‘script’ to follow if they find themselves in a similar situation

  • I am thrilled to have discovered this helpful website. It provides me with a great deal of interesting information about everything, notably the content of the preceding article.

  • In the context of the Will Smith and Chris Rock incident, the viral clip of the altercation might serve as a template for those who find themselves in similar ambiguous situations, leading to disinhibition and violent behavior.

  • They offer insights into scripture, offer lessons for living a virtuous life, and provide comfort during difficult times. Many people turn to sermons for a sense of spiritual fulfillment and to deepen their connection with their faith.

  • This analysis sheds light on the potential consequences of sensationalized media coverage, such as the recent incident at the 2022 Oscars. The concept of behavioral contagion, especially in the digital age, underscores the need for responsible reporting and media portrayal. As someone who has extensively researched online behavioral contagion, I can attest to its significant impact on societal behavior. Let’s hope for a more conscientious approach to media representation to mitigate the risk of increased violence.

  • This article provides a thought-provoking insight into the concept of behavioural contagion, particularly in the context of media coverage and celebrity influence. It’s concerning to see how sensationalist reporting can potentially amplify negative behaviors like violence. As individuals and as a society, it’s crucial to be mindful of the impact of media representations and to promote positive and respectful interactions. Thank you for shedding light on this important topic.

  • The story gives an interesting look at the idea of behavioral contagion, especially when it comes to how the media and famous people affect people. When you see how sensationalist news can make bad things like violence look worse, it worries you. People and society as a whole need to be aware of how media images affect us and work to promote positive and kind interactions. I really like how you explained this important topic.

  • Chris Rock has shown that many people often don’t realize who they’re interacting with or what might happen next. It’s crucial to watch your words, and making jokes about someone’s hair only proves that as a comedian, you’re past your prime and deserving of the consequences.

Digital wellbeing covers the latest scientific research on the impact of digital technology on human wellbeing. Curated by psychologist Dr. Paul Marsden (@marsattacks). Sponsored by WPP agency SYZYGY.