We offer a functional perspective on hate, showing that hate has a unique pattern of appraisals and action tendencies. Hate is based on perceptions of a stable, negative disposition of persons or groups. We hate persons and groups more because of who they are, than because of what they do. Hate has the goal to eliminate its target. Hate is especially significant at the intergroup level, where it turns already devalued groups into victims of hate. When shared among group members, hate can spread fast in conflict zones where people are exposed to hate-based violence, which further feeds their hate. Hate can be reassuring and self-protective, because its message is simple and helps confirming people’s belief in a just world.
In a comprehensive review of classic as well as more contemporary conceptualizations of hatred, Royzman, McCauley, and Rozin (2005) described hatred as the most destructive affective phenomenon in the history of human nature. These destructive implications of hatred on human life have been widely documented in several recent contributions (e.g., Halperin, 2011; Levin & Nolan, 2015a, 2015b; Opotow & McClelland, 2007; Sternberg, 2005; Sullivan, Ong, La Macchia, & Louis, 2016). This literature shows that hate has been defined in a variety of ways, a problem characteristic for emotions in general. Hate has been considered an emotional attitude (Ekman, 1992), a syndrome (Solomon, 1977), a form of generalized anger (Bernier & Dozier, 2002; Frijda, 1986; Power & Dalgleish, 1997), a generalized evaluation (Ben-Ze’ev, 2000), a normative judgment (McDevitt & Levin, 1993), a motive to devalue others (Rempel & Burris, 2005), or simply an emotion (Elster, 1999). Despite these different views, it is remarkable that there is little theorizing about hate, although the topic seems to be getting increasing attention in recent years. Even more surprisingly, there is not much in-depth empirical research on hatred, especially not in psychology. Interestingly, other disciplines, such as sociology, political science, communication, and social justice research have provided interesting new empirical data, in particular on hate crime and hate speech.
The fact that hate is an underresearched topic in psychology may be due to several factors. First, hate is a phenomenon that is complex to empirically investigate with the standard psychological methods and samples. The standard student population of the majority of psychological studies report that they have never experienced hate (e.g., Aumer, Krebs Bahn, & Harris, 2015; Halperin, 2008). For example, Halperin (2008, Study 1) aimed to examine people’s lay theories of hatred. For that purpose, he asked 40 Israelis to think of one event in their lives in which they felt hatred. All 40 interviewees immediately said that they had never experienced hatred. They further stated that they had felt extreme anger, that they knew other people who experienced hatred, and that they were aware of the prevalence of hatred in conflict zones. But to feel hatred towards other people? Not them. Ironically, some of the participants who said that they had never hated someone throughout their entire lives then described specific situations in the history of the Israeli– Palestinian conflict in which they had wanted to throw a bomb on a large Palestinian city, or situations in which they wanted to do everything to annihilate or destroy the Palestinians. These examples illustrate the social inappropriateness of hate and the unwillingness to acknowledge feeling such a destructive emotion