Love and hate are polar opposites, but they share a lot in common, which may help explain why an individual can go from loving someone to hating that same person within a short amount of time. Hatred is expressed in many ways in our culture: racism, political arguments, gender discrimination and religious intolerance all are controversial areas that have allowed people to form hatred relationships with others. Love and hate are both passionate emotions on the opposite end of the spectrum but are closely linked in the brain.
The brain’s hate circuit
The “hate” circuit in the brain consists of the putamen, insula and the superior frontal gyrus. This circuit was identified based on multiple studies in which individuals were shown an image of a person they hated and these specific areas showed increased activity via fMRI. Although this discovery is approximately a decade old, hatred has been around for thousands of years and is evident by events that center on hate crimes and racism.
The putamen is a structure in the brain that forms part of the basal ganglia. The putamen is responsible for motor movements and learning. It also has been proposed that the putamen is responsible for contempt and disgust — two common characteristics of hate. Since this structure helps regulate movement, it has been proposed that these movements aid in an individual to run from a hateful attack or to initiate a hateful attack. The insula is another physical structure in the brain that plays a main role in hate and helps with emotions. It plays a major role in the emotional balance of the body and, when severed, individuals become apathetic.
Brain structures involved in love
These same structures that play a role in the “hate” circuit in the brain also play a major role in love — illustrating that love and hate have much in common. When individuals are shown pictures of people they love, both the putamen and the insula light up. Both of these structures are involved in the emotions of love and hate, and that’s why many believe there is a very fine line between these emotions. We have all seen a lovers’ quarrel leading to a hateful rage. When we love a person, we are less judgmental and more accepting of him or her, but when we hate someone we become more calculated in our actions and are quick to pass judgment.
“A marked difference in the cortical pattern produced by these two sentiments of love and hate is that, whereas with love large parts of the cerebral cortex associated with judgment and reasoning become de-activated, with hate only a small zone, located in the frontal cortex, becomes de-activated. This may seem surprising since hate can also be an all-consuming passion, just like love. But whereas in romantic love, the lover is often less critical and judgmental regarding the loved person, it is more likely that in the context of hate the hater may want to exercise judgment in calculating moves to harm, injure or otherwise extract revenge,” said Semir Zeki, Ph.D., neuroesthetics professor at the University College London, in an article.
Depression’s role in hatred
Another study found that individuals diagnosed with depression process hate differently and their “hate circuits” in their brains are out of sync. This may explain why individuals with depression cope with emotions differently. These individuals often lack expression, a term called emotional blunting. Instead of dealing with feelings of hatred in a constructive way, they turn their emotions inward. This can cause a lot of self-harm and prolong the healing process in these individuals.
It is interesting to understand how and why love and hate are so closely linked. Using brain scans to image people’s insula and putamen has been proposed for use in investigating hate crimes and criminal activity to determine whether the accused had a motive or hatred toward the victim. The reason as to “why” we hate is not proven, but is based on multiple factors.
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About the author
Kristen Fuller, M.D., is a senior staff writer at the Sovereign Health Group and enjoys writing about evidence-based topics in the cutting-edge world of medicine. She is a physician and author, who also teaches, practices medicine in the urgent care setting and contributes to medicine board education. She is also an outdoor and dog enthusiast. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.