Scroll Down To Continue

The Science of Hate

What is Hate?

Hate is a very complex emotion with many varying degrees. According to Merriam-Webster, hate is defined as "an extreme hostility and aversion to something or someone." It can stem from other emotions, such as fear or anger; however, it it is distinctly different from them. 

The History of Hate

There is evidence that the ability to hate might be an evolutionary adaptation that helped primitive groups of hunter-gatherers to justify taking scarce food from other competing groups. Since this emotion involves the interior parts of the brain that developed early in human evolution, the origin of hate might date as far back as 150,000 years ago. 

The Brain's Hate Circuit

A study published in 2008 from University College London discovered that when a person is expressing strong hatred towards someone, there is activity in the putamen, the medial frontal gyrus, the premotor cortex and the insular cortex regions of the brain. This has now come to be referred to as the “hate circuit.”

Hate and Mental Illness

Mental health experts have looked at specific cases of extreme hatred, such as Hitler and Osama bin Laden. They have found that people with this capacity for cruelness were likely suffering from mental health conditions, such as narcissistic personality disorder and depression. However, even though hatred can be a symptom of some types of mental illness, this doesn’t mean that anyone who feels hatred towards other people is mentally ill. Normal levels of hatred are an expected result of an individual who is put in a situation that causes psychological stress. 

The Connection Between Love and Hate

Ironically, two of the regions that are part of the “hate circuit” (the putamen and insula) also light up when someone is experiencing feelings of romantic love. This explains why love and hatred are so often paired together, even though these emotions seem to logically be at two separate ends of the spectrum. 

Hate and Judgment

There is one key difference between hate and love, though. While both are characterized by areas of brain activity, love is also characterized by areas of the brain that become inactive. When we are experiencing feelings of love, our brain shuts off the area of the frontal cortex that is responsible for judgment and critical thinking. However, when experiencing feelings of hate, researchers found that the frontal cortex remains completely active, proving that hating someone is more than just an emotional reaction; it involves a certain level of judgment and reasoning. 

Hate and Aggression

One part of the hate circuit—the premotor cortex—is also active when people are feeling aggressive. This proves that when we are feeling hatred towards someone, we are also preparing for a potential physical attack. 

Hate and Vengeance

During the Medieval and Renaissance periods in Europe, hate was a very common emotion, even during times of peace. It was so common, in fact, that it evolved into a custom called the “vendetta." The concept of seeking revenge on people who had done you or your family wrong was so contagious that it eventually took root in America, where in the late 1800s it resulted in the famous blood feud in West Virginia between the Hatfield and McCoy families. This takes hate to another level that is beyond survival or logic; this is using hate as a form of entertainment, to fulfill a sense of purpose in the individual that can be addicting.  

Hatred in Groups

Unlike other emotions, such as love, hate has the ability to influence you to despise entire groups of people who you don’t know on an individual basis. Propaganda and the media have such an influence over society that they can convince millions of people to collectively discriminate against a specific group of people. One of the most popular examples of this is the Holocaust. The Nazi regime in Germany used films, radio, and modern presses that portrayed Jews as greedy and treacherous in order to build public support for the mass murder of millions of Jewish people across Europe. 

Is Hate Useful?

Even though hate has been the driving force behind many horrific acts of violence, some psychiatrists maintain that, similarly to a loaded gun, hatred isn’t inherently a bad thing. Rather, it has the capacity to be used for good as well as evil; it just depends on the circumstances and perspective. In the case of a revolutionary who is fighting against an injustice or oppressed citizens working together to overthrow a cruel dictator, hatred can be a positive emotion that is used as a tool for success.