Are humans 'wired' to hate, and if so, why? [MedicalNewsToday]

May 30, 2022

Hate is a powerful negative emotion, but a word that is easy to say. For example, many of us profess to hate public figures, such as politicians. One has only to browse social media to find declarations of hate for those in the public eye. So, is hate a hard-wired emotion in people? Medical News Today looked at the science behind why people feel hate.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines hate as being one of the following:

  • intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger, or a sense of injury
  • extreme dislike or disgust
  • a systematic and especially politically exploited expression of hatred.

In a 2018 article, Prof. Agneta Fischer from the University of Amsterdam and her co-authors described hatred as “the most destructive affective phenomenon in the history of human nature.”

But do we really know what it is?

The same article lists other ways in which hatred has been described: an emotional attitude, a syndrome, a form of generalized anger, a generalized evaluation, a normative judgment, a motive to devalue others, or simply an emotion.

Speaking to Medical News Today, Lee Chambers, psychologist and founder of Essentialise Workplace Wellbeing, noted that:

“Hate is part of that range of human emotions. It is quite distinct, in that it is a longer-term emotion. It’s not an immediate, acute emotion, like anger or sadness.”

According to Dr. Rebecca Saxe, hate shares characteristics with other negative emotions, such as anger, contempt, and disgust. It differs from them in that it focuses on the innate nature, motives, and characteristics of the target.

“A hostile feeling toward another person or group that consists of malice, repugnance and willingness to harm or even annihilate the object of hatred,” she says.

Dr. Saxe regards hate as an extension of the human tendency to form groupsTrusted Source — and for those groups to become “us,” the in-group, versus “them,” the out-group.

Within the in-group, members will coordinate and cooperate, showing altruism — behaviors that benefit others. Members of the in-group will also cooperate and show altruism towards those in the out-group, but only when resources are plentiful.

If resources are threatened, cooperation becomes confined to members of the in-group. In extreme circumstances, this parochialismTrusted Source — the tendency to cooperate with those in the in-group — may become active harm, or hatred, of those in the out-group.

This tendency is often exploited during war: Leaders will choose an out-group — an enemy— on which the in-group can focus their hatred...

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