In the new music video for “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever,” permanently angsty millennials Taylor Swift and ZAYN break shit. A lot of it. It is understandable: They’re probably just sexually frustrated and angry that they were tapped to do a song for 50 Shades Darker. Like animals, they find release by breaking things — but the reason animals do so isn’t so much emotional as it is physiological: Smashing objects is easier than smashing people.
According to an animal behavior hypothesis called “redirected attack” theory, it’s less energetically costly for an individual to lash out at a thing than it is to attack another individual (who will probably fight back), so it’s more adaptive to redirect the urge to punch stuff toward inanimate objects. So, if one monkey is really pissed off at her friend, it would be wiser to smash some bananas rather than hit her friend because doing the latter would be a waste of precious energy. Animals, unlike Taylor Swift and Zayn, do not have an endless supply of high-quality nutrition to fuel temper tantrums.
Sometimes, animals simply redirect their angry behavior to weaker individuals instead of objects, which would make sense if the energy conservation hypothesis is true: it doesn’t require that much energy to hit an opponent who won’t fight back. As the authors of a paper featured in psychology text The Dynamics of Aggression point out, “Redirection has most often been reported in colonies of monkeys where a subordinate attacked by a dominant will seek out a still lower ranking animal.” In mice, this theory has sad implications for females: They’re not usually attacked by males, but they can become the target for redirected behavior.
Redirected behavior theory hasn’t really been studied in humans, but the implications for us are clear. Like animals, we respond with anger when we are threatened, and when we are threatened, we want to remove the threat. Some people with high self-control can channel that anger elsewhere; others, unable to manage their anger, act on their violent urges to hurt others. Tay and ZAYN, it seems, fall somewhere in between by hurting things instead.
We get it: They have a lot of feels. And when emotions run high, humans don’t always know what to do with them. This seems to be the first time ZAYN is exhibiting this sort of behavior, but it’s certainly not the first time Taylor has smashed things. Perhaps she’ll need an anger management course somewhere down the line, but for now, she can at least say she’s being energy efficient.