Saturday, December 6, 2008

Motivations for studying hate

Hate is a very interesting condition and, like love, has no doubt been a major force in shaping human history and destinies. It thus seemed naturally interesting to learn something about the neural processes underlying it, which is why we undertook a study of it, to complement our earlier studies of romantic and maternal love. Our study of hate has still a long way to go, and we plan more experiments in this area in the future.

But there is another reason why I was interested in pursuing a study of hate. I have long had an academic colleague in whom I found nothing but hate, but I found it very difficult to pinpoint the source of this hatred towards me. For, to the best of my knowledge, I had done nothing to harm him in any way, indeed had been friendly and well-meaning towards him.

It must be the colour of my eyes or my manner of speaking, I thought.

And then I found that his hatred was not directed against me alone. It was more general than that – evident in letters he had written to, or about, other colleagues.

So, I concluded that he was just full of hate.

And I was really curious to learn about which parts of his brain become active when he looks at me and others – people whom he apparently hates irrationally (for there is no obvious reason why he should hate us).

Experiences – including unpleasant ones - can also be motivating factors in undertaking scientific work.

I was somewhat surprised by the results that we obtained. Given that hate is commonly irrational – and the example I give above obviously so – I expected to see significant de-activation of frontal, parietal, and temporal cortex, just as with romantic love, where people also commonly take leave of their senses. But, with hate, cortical de-activation was much more confined, in fact to an area which has also been found to be de-activated in cases of obsessive-compulsive disorders.

I have tried to account for this by supposing that the hating person wants to use all his judgmental powers to calculate how to harm the hated person. Indeed, activation of parts of the brain – in particular a structure known as the putamen, which has been linked to disgust and to motor preparation in an aggressive context – would support this.

As I say, there are many more studies yet to be done on brain processes and hate. The original inspiration – from my hating colleague – will be forgotten as more interesting insights are gained.

But it is as well to pay my compliments to him for being – at least in part – the inspirational source for this study.

Do I hate him in return? Of course not! How could anyone hate someone who inspires an interesting study!?


The Self-Proclaimed Wordsmith said...

Dr. Zeki, this is an extremely interesting study. Could you provide additional details about your findings? How did you test for the condition of hate? Also, what are the implications of hate being confined to regions other than the ones that are activated during love?

I am an undergraduate student at the University of Illinois (in the US) and came across your blog a few months ago after reading in class your 1983 paper on colour coding in the monkey V4 - it was a really fascinating paper.

Semir Zeki said...

The study asked subjects to view, in a scanner, the picture of the person they hate and the picture of three others of roughly the same age, and the same gender, and with whom they had been acquainted for about the same time. We measured activity in the brain in the usual way. Further details are given in the paper.

The circuit that is activated by viewing the picture of a hated person is different from that activated by viewing a loved person, but also shares two brain regions with the other - namely the putamen and the insula. There are many possible explanations for this, which only future experiments will clarify

Halewyn said...

""Love is easy. Hate is complicated""

By this means, and initially, love is disperse in nature, while hate is focused or concentrated..

*Important question you well said somehow by saying:

"I have tried to account for this by supposing that the hating person wants to use all his judgmental powers to calculate how to harm the hated person"


You can look at this familiar way..

In the cartoons things need to be presented to the kids in a clarified way; so in this context the character who loves is identified usually with an old and warm person, while the character who hates is identified by the oppositte, a young and cold person, who as well "loves" to consciously calculate his plans, always guided by the force of self-esteem.

Of course the problem comes when Love gets complicated, and Hate easy.. And here is where irrationality "comes" in to play, because things get into confusion (the borderline gets diffused).

I will not get more into it to avoid an even longer reply.. (sorry for that) but here comes a hypothesis that may worth an study.

Change Love for Truth, and Hate for Falseness, while keeping in mind the previous.

While both require de-activation of certain areas, it's easy to see that we don't have to make an effort to say the truth, and that on the contrary things get complicate when someone tries to lie, and even more when in the need of supporting the coherence of it.

This effort should have a reflection on the scan images in one or other way.

In fact almost anyone believe that love is beauty, and that beauty is truth, and by this means.. -finally- that "love is truth" (in an oversimplified way for the sake of making myself clear). And the opposite, then, for hate.

In this case we have also that irrationality arrives when truth gets complicated, and falseness easy.

I would recommend you to study this at a neurological level and compare it to the love-hate question.

You may look for some kind of an analogue of a "Tourette Syndrome"* in terms of having the compulsion of telling lies instead of saying phrases embebbed on hate -irrationally (not directed to anyone and to everyone)-; usual of most of this cases.

*In reference to what you mentioned about the possible relation with obsessive-compulsive disorders.

And you may like to think also about this:

¿You hate irrationality, or just love rationality?

Anyway. Very interesting question!!! You sould study it carefully, because it can shed light to many other unsolved questions.