The Psychology of Hate

Today we're going to address one of the most destructive feelings. If you want to know more about why you feel hatred or how it influences you, this article is for you.
The Psychology of Hate

Written by José Padilla

Last update: 21 October, 2022

As humans, our communicative capacity and the means we have to preserve knowledge allow us to be aware of many of the emotions and feelings that influence our social interactions. Fortunately, most of them are positive. In fact, they edify others and give value and importance to those who allow themselves to be permeated by them. Love is a clear example.

Not only has this sentiment received enormous attention from human relations studies, but also from the consumer industry. However, what remains of the other side of the coin: hate? What place does it occupy in the study of human existence?

There’s a great deal of literature on the subject of love. Novels, movies, and stories, as well as scientific and philosophical research, abound. But what about hate? What do we use to understand its psychology?

Hate

There are many definitions and conceptions of hate. For this reason, there’s no exact and fair conceptualization of it. It’s been considered in multiple ways: as an emotional attitude, a normative judgment, a feeling, a motivation, a generalized evaluation…the list goes on.

However, despite the conceptual discrepancies, there’s one component of hate that’s been accepted in all of them: the desire to harm. This desire can be a means to an end or an end in itself. Thus, an individual may yearn to harm another in order to restore an established order, elevate themselves, gain pleasure, assert their autonomy, or prevent abandonment. In all of these cases, regardless of the intent, the goal is to harm.

At the interpersonal level, it’s been claimed that hate fulfills different functions. For instance, self-repair, revenge, communicating an emotional state or restoring autonomy. At the intergroup level, it’s been considered a functional means for political behaviors, such as affiliation and cohesion within a group.

Hate, understood as a short or long-term feeling, is altered and intensified by other emotions, such as revenge, anger, and contempt. Different factors intervene in the complexity, chronicity, and stability of this feeling, especially motivational ones.

Thus, hate is influenced by a motivation that intensifies the basic tendencies to action. Roseman (2008) has suggested that these action tendencies are an inherent part of emotional experience. He labeled them as ’emotional’ components of the emotional system.

Hate and other emotions

Although hate is influenced by other emotions, such as anger, dislike, and contempt, it shouldn’t be equated with them. In fact, research claims that it’s more arousing than these three moral emotions and that it’s closer to disgust and contempt than anger and loathing.

So while common sense suggests that hate is closer to anger, research tells us otherwise. This is hardly surprising for, as is often the case, common sense isn’t, in fact, too common at all. 

Angry man and woman turning their backs on each other
Hate poisons our state of mind and makes us distrustful and sometimes aggressive.

The differences between hate and anger

Hate and anger can be distinguished from three perspectives: appraisal, action tendencies, and motivational goals.

With regard to appraisal, hate is different from anger. That’s because the object of anger is seen as behavior that can be influenced and changed. On the other hand, in the case of hatred, it’s seen as stable and unable to change its negative characteristics. Furthermore, in hate, evaluations are directed at the person themselves and not at their actions, as in the case of anger.

In relation to action tendencies and motivational goals, hate differs from anger in that it aims to harm, humiliate, or destroy (kill) the other, while anger aims to coerce the other. Although both have certain similarities, their emotional objectives are totally different.

The neural correlate

One investigation found that seeing a hated face increases activity in the medial frontal gyrus, right putamen, premotor cortex, frontal lobe, and medial insula.

The researchers in this study also found three areas where activation correlated linearly with the level of hate: the right insula, the right premotor cortex, and the right front medial gyrus.

The research demonstrated that there’s a unique pattern of activity in the brain when a person feels hate. Although this pattern is different from the one correlated with that of romantic love, the two emotions share two areas in common: the putamen and the insula.

The triangular theory

Like Sternberg’s theoretical model of the triangular theory of love, hate also has a triangular structure. The three components of Sternberg’s structure are intimacy, passion, and commitment. In the case of hate, they’re presented in their negative version.

Privacy

The first component is the denial of intimacy. While in love, intimacy implies emotional closeness, in the case of hate, its denial implies an active search for emotional distancing and detachment.

This distance is due to the fact that the individual or group arouses repulsion or disgust in those who experience hate. These feelings can remain dormant for years.

Passion

Passion in hate is made up of fear or anger in response to a threat. The emotion of anger leads to an approach to the object of hate in order to attack or destroy it, while fear leads to its avoidance.

The fight and flight reaction is part of hate because the hated person is perceived as a real or imagined danger. Therefore, we have to run away from them or eliminate them.

Commitment

This component is characterized by devaluations and attitudes of contempt toward what’s hated, be it a group or a person. It’s extremely common for the object of hate to be seen as something subhuman.

The goal of those who promote hate is for the group or person to be devalued by others and to be perceived as something worth rejecting, destroying, or harming.

Angry and screaming man
Hate is a social emotion that arises in the face of injustice, contempt, or shame.

As in the triangular theory of love, the combination of these three components forms different types of hate:

  • Cold. Disgust (denial of intimacy). This type of hatred is characterized by feelings of disgust.
  • Hot. Anger/fear (passion). Based on feelings of anger or fear. It provokes the fight-or-flight response.
  • Cold. Devaluation/decrease (compromise). A cold hatred that’s based on thoughts of unworthiness toward the hated person or group.
  • Boiling. Disgust (denial of intimacy + passion). Characterized by feelings of disgust in conjunction with anger or fear toward the object of hatred.
  • Simmering. Disgust (denial of intimacy + commitment). Based on feelings of aversion and thoughts of unworthiness toward the hated person or group. Also, feelings of disgust.
  • Boiling. Insult (passion + commitment). Characterized by feelings of injury. For the person who experiences this kind of hatred, the other has always been a threat and always will be.
  • Burning. Annihilation (denial of intimacy + passion + commitment). Based on a vehement desire to destroy and annihilate the other.

Hate is destructive

Hate is a feeling that’s caused a great deal of destruction on our planet. In fact, not only has it killed millions of humans, but animals too. Although this type of feeling has evolved for adaptive purposes, the way we use it affects not only our survival as individuals but also as a species.

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Hate in the Brain
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Hate in the Brain

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  • Aumer, K. (2016). The psychology of love and hate in intimate relationships. Springer.
  • Fischer, A., Halperin, E., Canetti, D., & Jasini, A. (2018). Why we hate. Emotion Review10(4), 309-320.
  • Martínez, C. A., van Prooijen, J. W., & Van Lange, P. A. (2021). Hate: Toward understanding its distinctive features across interpersonal and intergroup targets. Emotion.
  • Roseman, I. J. (2008). Motivations and emotions: Approach, avoidance, and other tendencies in motivated and emotional behavior. In A. J. Elliot (Ed.), Handbook of approach and avoidance motivation (pp. 343–366). New York: Psychology Press.
  • Sternberg, R. J., & Sternberg, K. (2008). The nature of hate. Cambridge University Press.