The Individual Psychology of
APA: Michener, W. (2012). The Individual Psychology of Group Hate. Journal of Hate Studies,
10(1), 15-48. Retrieved from: http://journals.gonzaga.edu/index.php/johs/article/view/177.
Bluebook: Willa Michener, The Individual Psychology of Group Hate, 10 J. HATE STUD. 15 (2012),
available at http://journals.gonzaga.edu/index.php/johs/article/view/177.
ALWD: Willa Michener, The Individual Psychology of Group Hate, 10 J. Hate Stud. 15 (2012),
available at http://journals.gonzaga.edu/index.php/johs/article/view/177.
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The Individual Psychology of Group Hate
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Revenge is often taken against people who were not perpetrators of the
original offense, provided that they belong to the perpetrator’s group.
People react as if they believed that if one member of a group attacked,
then they all did or would. Groups are culturally defined, though the
tendency to relate to them is universal. It is proposed that “the enemy” is
an inherited category while the identity of the groups placed into that
category is learned. Enemies are subject to hate, fear, and coldness (the
inhibition of empathy). We are prepared to experience an entire outgroup
as “enemy” if any of them attack us. We anticipate the same reaction in
outgroups by experiencing them as “enemy” when any of us attack them.
We mirror fellow ingroup members’ hatreds.
Keywords: hatred, ethnocentrism, racism, misia, xenophobia, hate crime
On September 11, 2001, after the South Tower at the World Trade
Center fell and while the North Tower still stood burning, a caller to the
Howard Stern radio program in New York City said this:
Howard, I’ll tell you what. The first second I hear on the news that it has
anything to do with a towelhead or a dothead bastard I’m gonna go out
there and start goin’ to those A-rab stores and I’m gonna start kickin’ ass
. . . get those assholes out of the whole freakin’ neighborhood [here the
hosts interrupt to say “Stop it, stop it . . . ” but the caller goes on] and I
implore all Americans to get your arms together, baby, get out there on
the streets and go to your local freakin’ deli [Here the radio host hangs up
on him, saying to the audience “He’s just upset” and the co-host says “I
know but he’s an idiot.”].
Another caller said:
Whoever claims this whether we have proof or not just freakin’ annihilate
Willa Michener holds a B.A. in economics from Swarthmore College, a
J.D. from the University of California at Berkeley, an M.P.A. from Harvard
University, and a Ph.D. in physiological psychology from the University of
Pennsylvania. She is a research affiliate at the Center for International
Studies of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She is interested in
the evolutionary psychology of emotion.
16 JOURNAL OF HATE STUDIES [Vol. 10:15
the country. Don’t worry about the kids, the old people. Just freakin’
wipe the country out . . . You see how they wiped out the twin towers.
Wipe out the country! Babies? Who cares about their babies?
One of the hosts responded:
Yeah no one cares about their babies. Not me! (From a recording of the
September 11, 2001 broadcast)
The hosts went on to advocate annihilating the entire population of
Afghanistan or any other country that might be harboring terrorists.
Four days later, Balbir Singh Sodhi was shot to death as he planted
flowers outside his filling station in Mesa, Arizona. News accounts stated
blandly that Frank Roque killed him in revenge for the attacks of September
11 (Gallegus, 2001). They did not explain why Roque had targeted a per-
son who was not a perpetrator of the 9/11 crimes. It was assumed that
readers would already know that people take revenge against innocents who
belong to the same group as a guilty person. It was pointed out that Roque
got his victim’s group membership wrong, since Balbir Singh Sodhi was
neither Muslim nor Arab. On the same day, a Pakistani Muslim was shot to
death in Dallas, Texas, and an Egyptian Christian was killed in San Gabriel,
California (Mozingo, 2001; Vaishnav, 2001).
These murders could be called
because the victims
were not involved in the original offense, either as perpetrator or as victim.
They were third parties. Third-party revenge has also been called “vicari-
ous retribution” (Lickel, Miller, Stenstrom, Denson, & Schmader, 2006). It
appears in many cultures.
In Rwanda, the Hutu genocide against Tutsis began hours after the
assassination of President Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu (Des Forges,
1999). Hutu Power leaders blamed the murder on the Tutsi-dominated
rebel force, though the accusation was never proved. When Straus (2003)
in prison afterwards, 70% gave the
Habyarimana murder as a reason for the genocide. One man put it suc-
cinctly: “We killed them because they were Tutsi and because the Tutsi had
killed Habyarimana” (Straus, 2003, p. 8). Straus summarizes the logic of
this as “all Tutsi had to be blamed for the killing of Habyarimana” (p. 8).
Tutsi babies were killed too (Des Forges, 1999). Perhaps the Hutu Power
leaders had anticipated these events; certainly they had prepared for the
genocide in advance (Des Forges, 1999; Powers, 2002). It is possible that
they killed Habyarimana themselves and accused the Tutsi of having done it
in order to provoke the reaction (Des Forges, 1999).
On February 27, 2002, the Sarbamati Express train stopped in the town
2012] INDIVIDUAL PSYCHOLOGY OF GROUP HATE 17
of Godhra in India. Its passengers were Hindu activists returning from a
pilgrimage to the disputed Babri Mosque/Ram Temple site in Ayodhya.
Some of the passengers taunted a Muslim vendor at the train station. The
dispute escalated until local Muslims set fire to the train, killing 58 people.
The next day, other Hindus conducted a pogrom against other Muslims.
Hindu extremists of Ahmedabad raped Muslim women, then cut them and
burned them to death. In all, hundreds of men, women, and children were
killed. The Muslims of Ahmedabad were said to be surprised and uncom-
prehending (Human Rights Watch, 2002; ur Rahman, 1998; Varshney,
When David Blumenfeld was a schoolboy in New York, he was
attacked by a gang of Gentiles he had never seen before. One gang member
pushed a knife against his stomach, saying, “You son of a bitch. You killed
Jesus! I’m going to kill you.” David escaped when his friends came to his
aid (Blumenfeld, 2002, p. 178).
What is the psychological origin of the impulse for third-party
revenge? Evidently the impulse is often thoughtless, but what feeling is it
that comes before thought in these cases? After describing crimes against
humanity in the former Yugoslavia, Ignatieff summed up:
The atrocities are held to reveal the essential identity—the intrinsic geno-
cidal propensity—of the peoples in whose name they were committed.
All the members of the group are regarded as susceptible to that propen-
sity even though atrocity can be committed only by specific individuals.
(1977, p. 197)
People seem to feel as if all the members of an outgroup are responsi-
ble for the misdeeds of any one member (Lickel et al., 2006). If one did it,
then they all did it, or at least any of them might do it, or “that’s how they
are.” In addition, people desire to take revenge against the miscreant out-
group: “one did it/they all did it/get them back.” We may call this the
after Frank Roque, the man who murdered Balbir Singh Sodhi.
It is curious that the rule of “one did it/they all did it” not only causes
blame to jump from one individual to another, but also causes blame to
jump across time. In 1915, Gourgen Yanikian lost 26 members of his fam-
ily in the Turkish government’s genocide of ethnic Armenian citizens.
Fifty-eight years later, he shot to death Consul Mehmet Baydar and Vice
Consul Bahadir Demir of Turkey, in Santa Barbara, California. Before
committing the murders, he mailed out a press release saying that he had a
personal war against “the Turkish beasts and their government” because of
the genocide. In court, he said that he had not committed murder because
his victims were “not human.” He had not “killed two men” but had
18 JOURNAL OF HATE STUDIES [Vol. 10:15
destroyed “two evils.” Neither Mehmet Baydar nor Bahadir Demir had yet
been born in 1915 (People v. Yanikian, 1974; “Armenian Guilty of Killing
Turks,” 1973, p. 9).
“One did it/they all did it” applies only to hurtful deeds. Good deeds
are not generalized with so much feeling (Eibl-Eibesfeldt, 1998; Hewstone
& Cairns, 2001). Good deeds may be generalized in the way that any
example is generalized back to its category (McCauley, Stitt, & Segal,
1980), or perhaps in the way that traits are generalized to every member of
an animal species (Gil-White, 2001), but they are not given the special
force and importance that bad deeds get. Christians do not have a 2000-
year-old tradition of thanking Jews for redeeming the world because Christ
was a Jew. Osama bin Laden did not thank Americans for Norman
Borlaug’s work on the Green Revolution because Norman Borlaug was an
American. The Green Revolution saved millions of lives, some Muslim,
but what does that have to do with Americans generally?
It is evident that “one did it/they all did it” does not apply to one’s own
group. Americans would be astonished if anyone said that Americans
ought all to suffer for what Frank Roque did. The absurdity would be plain,
These points demonstrate that “one did it/they all did it” is not a simple
result of the ordinary tendency to generalize and simplify. What is it then?
From Darwin on, evolutionary psychologists have speculated that we
evolved to compete, group against group (Alexander, 1987; Barkow, 1989;
Darwin, 1871; Kurzban, Tooby, & Cosmides, 2001; Richerson & Boyd,
1998; van den Berghe, 1981; Wrangham & Peterson, 1996). The definition
is obviously cultural, since some persons identify by nationality,
some by tribe or ethnic group, some by clan or lineage, some by religion,
some by party or ideology, some by village or region, some by race, and
some by caste or social class. Nevertheless, the tendency to identify some
one group as our own, and others as alien, may be an inherited species-wide
trait. If we did evolve to compete group against group, then there are prob-
ably many separate inherited traits that enable that competition.
The most obvious test of whether a trait is inherited is
proportion of the variation in the trait that may be explained by variation in
the genes. The tendency to have phobias is known to be heritable as con-
cordance, for the trait is higher in identical than in fraternal twins. The
specific content of the phobia is not (Kendler, Karkowski, & Prescott,
1999). Possibly the tendency to generalize hatred to all of an outgroup will
2012] INDIVIDUAL PSYCHOLOGY OF GROUP HATE 19
prove to be heritable even though the identity of the group to be hated can
The heritability of a trait is zero either when the trait is not genetic, or
when it is but there is no variation in the genes across individuals. Having
two legs is genetic but not heritable: All the variation in number of legs is
due to environmental factors. How can a species-wide genetic influence on
a behavior be detected, when the genes involved are unknown? The prob-
lem is not simple (Barkow, Cosmides, & Tooby, 1992; Eibl-Eibesfeldt,
1989; Rozin, 2000).
One test is whether the trait in question crosses cultural lines. For
example, in most cultures, disgust is expressed by gestures for the rejection
of food, such as curling the upper lip and extruding the tongue. These
facial expressions are considered impolite in Japan, so the Japanese usually
suppress them. However, they make the same expressions while watching
disgusting films if they think no one will see. Japanese also recognize the
meaning of the expressions in others. In every culture tested, people recog-
nize these expressions as signs of disgust. Consequently, the use of food
rejection gestures to indicate disgust is thought to be inherited (Ekman,
The example suggests that one should be able to identify traces of a
species-wide evolved trait in any given culture, regardless of the culture’s
overt evaluation of the trait. French culture generally favors individual
responsibility, but the diarist H.C. Robinson recorded an exception to the
rule. A French soldier had once been rescued by Englishmen just as he was
about to be killed by Spanish soldiers. On encountering Robinson some
time later, he said, “Oh, you are English, so I like you! If you were Spanish
I would have slit your throat.” “What! Kill me when I have done nothing to
you?” asked Robinson. “If it wasn’t you, it was your brother. If not your
brother, then your cousin. It’s the same thing. One can’t find the individ-
ual, it’s impossible” (Fison & Howitt, 1967, p. 157, author’s translation).
Fison and Howitt repeated Robinson’s story in an 1880 work on the South
Pacific. They remarked on the fact that certain Fijian groups saw a commu-
nity as “one body” so that if anyone were injured by an attack from outside
the community, everyone in the community would feel himself hurt and
entitled to strike back. Furthermore, since the other community would also
be only “one body,” it would not matter which “part” of the other commu-
nity one struck. Fison and Howitt supposed that the Frenchman’s spontane-
ous outburst and the formal Melanesian belief came from the same human
Many cultures have institutionalized and regularized third-party
revenge. During the 1930s in what is now Sudan, the Nuer people main-
tained that revenge killing was right and proper as against any relative of a
20 JOURNAL OF HATE STUDIES [Vol. 10:15
murderer, provided that the relationship was through the male line (“your
brother . . . your cousin . . . same thing”). Revenge could be taken against
infants just as well as against adults (Evans-Pritchard, 1968). In southern
Africa, among the !Kung San, the relatives of a murder victim may raid the
murderer’s group, killing anyone they can (Wrangham & Peterson, 1996).
Various traditional cultures of Melanesia made revenge for a murder a
moral obligation for male relatives. The murderer would be the preferred
target, but a different member of the outgroup would do (Trompf, 1994).
Among the Yanomamo of Brazil, the key grouping is a kind of mobile
village or band. A killing by a man from another village must be repaid by
a killing of someone in the murderer’s village. A brisk anger against all of
the other group accompanies these killings (Chagnon, 1992).
The idea of collective responsibility can take hold even in a modern
culture. At the same time that Evans-Pritchard was studying the Nuer,
Adolf Hitler was preaching notions of collective responsibility in Germany.
“The Jews” were subjected to all sorts of fantastic accusations, which were
widely believed. Jews, every individual Jew included, were blamed for
Germany’s surrender in World War I, as well as for the evils of capitalism,
communism, and disease. Eventually 6,000,000 Jews were murdered
(Goldhagen, 1996; Lifton, 1986).
The doctrine of individual responsibility was reintroduced to Germany
after the Nazi defeat. First, however, the newly liberated peoples of Europe
avenged themselves by conducting an “ethnic cleansing” of the
, the ethnic Germans living outside the borders of Germany. It is
estimated that somewhere between 500,000 and 2,000,000 civilian Germans
were murdered or died of hardships after being forced out of their homes
(de Zayas, 1986).
American culture supports the idea of individual responsibility. Nev-
ertheless, a sort of folk culture of group responsibility shows up in the
United States from time to time. In 1969, a European American police
officer named Henry Schaad was killed by African Americans in York,
Pennsylvania in revenge for an alleged attack by European Americans on an
African American youth. No one claimed that Schaad had taken part in the
attack. A gang of European Americans then killed a young African Ameri-
can mother named Lillie Belle Allen. They pumped bullet after bullet into
her body as she lay slumped and helpless against the side of her car. Allen
had nothing to do with Henry Schaad’s death. She was a minister’s daugh-
ter visiting from out of town (Bunch, 2001; Robertson, 2001). The Euro-
pean American police officer at the scene, Charles Robertson, explained
why no arrests were made: “Everyone knew who was involved. But every-
one just thought it was even. One black had been killed and one white.
Even” (Bunch, 2001, p. 29).
2012] INDIVIDUAL PSYCHOLOGY OF GROUP HATE 21
According to Pascal Boyer, third-party revenge shows up readily in
children. “[A]fter being attacked by one member of the group one can
retaliate by attacking another member,” he writes, and, “This elementary
intuition is easily acquired by children the world over” (Boyer, 2001, 529).
Admittedly, evolutionary adaptation is not the only possible explana-
tion for third-party revenge. One could argue that it appears in many cul-
tures because it is, sometimes, a realistic approach to security. Political
scientists Fearon and Laitin point out (1996) that third-party revenge gives
all members of an outgroup an incentive to control even their most violent
members. This incentive could improve the security of one’s own self and
group (Prunier, 1995). However, if the rational pursuit of one’s own secur-
ity were one’s only motivation, hatred would be unnecessary. Pity might be
more appropriate, given that the victims are selected at random. But third-
party revenge is often accompanied by a vivid hatred.
Rational self-interest (or rational group interest) and evolutionary
adaptation are not mutually exclusive. If the tendency to commit third-
party revenge is an adaptation, it is possible that it evolved because a show
of the strength of one’s own group tends to deter the outgroup. In appropri-
ate cases, inherited emotional preferences and rational considerations would
reinforce each other. This means that one must ask whether “one did it/they
all did it” also shows itself in inappropriate cases. If “one did it/they all did
it” is due to an evolved mechanism, it ought to arise even when it does not
actually add to one’s security.
Evolved patterns of feeling and behavior are not necessarily irrational,
but they are a-rational. When the conditions that produced them are pre-
sent, the strategies involved may appear rational, and when they are absent,
they may appear irrational. For example, in humans and rats there is a
simple rule for learning taste aversion. The animal becomes averse to any
flavor that it consumed before experiencing nausea. A delay of hours
would block the association of a sound with a shock, but it does not block
the association of flavor with nausea (Garcia & Koelling, 1966). Human
beings also come to dislike a novel flavor given to them before they are
made nauseated by chemotherapy (Bernstein & Webster, 1980). Such
inherited, channeled learning has been called “prepared learning” (Selig-
man, 1971; Seligman & Hager, 1972).
There is another well-known example. Human children raised
together are sexually inhibited towards each other, whether they are geneti-
cally related or not (Shepher, 1971; Wolf & Huang, 1980). Sexual attrac-
tion between biological siblings raised apart has not been studied, but there
is anecdotal evidence that it occurs (Herbert, 2001). The mechanism is evi-
dently similar in other mammalian species in which adult siblings live in
proximity to one another. Individuals who associated with each other in
22 JOURNAL OF HATE STUDIES [Vol. 10:15
infancy do not mate in adulthood, though actual siblings raised apart do
(Eibl-Eibesfeldt, 1989). The function of the inhibition against familiars is
obviously the avoidance of inbreeding, but the inhibition applies whether
there is an actual danger of inbreeding or not.
These two simple rules of prepared learning appear rational or func-
tional in some contexts and not in others, but they apply forcefully in both
situations. A human being may know that it was chemotherapy and not
food that made him nauseated, but he will still be repelled by the flavor of
the food he ate just before the chemotherapy. Unrelated couples who were
raised together on the same kibbutz are in no danger of inbreeding, and they
face no cultural taboo, but they simply can’t feel much sexual attraction to
each other (Shepher, 1971). Conscious thought has nothing to do with it.
Similarly, “one did it/they all did it” appears in conditions where it
does not make sense. In particular, its tendency to skip blame across time is
Gourgen Yanikian did not improve his personal security when he mur-
dered the two Turkish diplomats in California in 1973. Perhaps he
improved his group’s security, if future attacks by Turks on Armenians are
considered a realistic possibility.
The Gentiles attacking the Jewish boy in New York were under no
security threat from him or from Jews generally. The victim they claimed
to speak for, Christ, was beyond the need of their defense.
In Norway, 10,000 children were born to German fathers and Norwe-
gian mothers between 1940 and 1945. After the war, Norwegian hatred of
“Germans” was directed at these half-German children. One woman testi-
fied that a dentist intentionally drilled into her gums to show her the pain
Norwegians suffered under Nazi torture (Mellgren, 2002). One can make
sense of this, if at all, only by supposing that the dentist really felt that she
was German and that she shared in other Germans’ guilt.
The writer Amos Oz recalls meeting a young nun on a train in France.
On learning that he was Jewish, she asked about Christ: “He was so sweet;
how could the Jews do it to him?” Her voice was so sad that he was
tempted to answer, “It wasn’t me–I just happened to have had a dentist
appointment on that particular Friday” (Oz, 2000, p. C1). Her question had
nothing to do with her personal safety, or even her group safety. However,
if she simply, really believed that “one did it/they all did it/they all would
do it,” then it would make sense that she would ask the question. Surely if
he would kill Christ, he would know why.
It is possible to experience “one did it/they all did it” as an emotion
even when it contradicts one’s own conscious beliefs. Primo Levi exper-
ienced it in this way in Auschwitz.
2012] INDIVIDUAL PSYCHOLOGY OF GROUP HATE 23
In 1944, the camp of Auschwitz was supplying prisoner-slaves to
nearby industry. Slaves were allowed to live for a while before being
gassed, so assignment as a slave brought the hope of survival. Levi was
sent to be tested in chemistry, to see if he could qualify to work in a labora-
tory. His examiner was one Doktor Ingenieur Pannwitz. Levi writes of his
feelings as he entered the office of this man:
Pannwitz is tall, thin, blond; he has eyes, hair and nose as all
Germans ought to have them, and sits formidably behind a complicated
writing-table. I, Haftling 174517, stand in his office, which is a real
office, shining, clean and ordered, and I feel that I would leave a dirty
stain whatever I touched.
When he finished writing, he raised his eyes and looked at me.
From that day I have thought about Doktor Pannwitz many times
and in many ways. I have asked myself how he really functioned as a
man; how he filled his time, outside of the Polymerization and the Indo-
Germanic conscience; above all when I was once more a free man, I
wanted to meet him again, not from a spirit of revenge, but merely from a
personal curiosity about the human soul.
Because that look was not one between two men; and if I had known
how completely to explain the nature of that look, which came as if
across the glass window of an aquarium between two beings who live in
different worlds, I would also have explained the essence of the great
insanity of the third Germany.
One felt in that moment, in an immediate manner, what we all
thought and said of the Germans. The brain which governed those blue
eyes and those manicured hands said: “This something in front of me
belongs to a species which it is obviously opportune to suppress. In this
particular case, one has to first make sure that it does not contain some
utilizable element.” And in my head, like seeds in an empty pumpkin:
“Blue eyes and fair hair are essentially wicked. No communication pos-
sible. I am a specialist in mine chemistry. I am a specialist in organic
syntheses. I am a specialist . . . ” (1986, p. 105)
“Blue eyes and fair hair are essentially wicked
. . .” He knows that it is not
so, and yet he feels it.
Similarly, Fania Fenelon reported that she began to hate “all Germans”
while she was imprisoned in Auschwitz-Birkenau (Fenelon, 1977). She
considered that stereotyping was precisely the vice of the concentration
camps, so she resisted her urge to stereotype.
When the civil rights leader Medgar Evers was shot, his brother
Charles resolved to go and kill European Americans. He wanted to shoot or
poison one white bigot in each county of Mississippi. He bought guns. But
a voice in his mind kept saying to him that Medgar would not want it that
way. He decided to continue the civil rights work that his brother was
24 JOURNAL OF HATE STUDIES [Vol. 10:15
killed for instead. He consoled himself with the thought that black voting
would aggravate the bigots more than revenge killings would anyway
An Israeli tank shell struck the house of Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish in
Gaza as he spoke on the phone with a reporter. His three daughters and a
niece died. He saw their familiar hands and feet torn from their bodies and
scattered about the room. With effort he held to his previous abhorrence of
hatred and his dedication to peace. He said that he had always worked hard
not to attribute misdeeds of particular Israelis to all Israelis, just as he
would wish Israelis to work hard not to attribute the deeds of suicide bomb-
ers to all Palestinians (Abuelaish, 2010; Berger, 2011).
A European American prisoner of war named Robert Knight died of
starvation and abuse in a Japanese prison camp during World War II. Years
afterwards, his sister, Anne Knight Ruff, found herself feeling dislike for an
individual American of Japanese ancestry. She was applying for a job at
the American Friends Service Committee, where this man would be her
supervisor. She wrote, “I hadn’t realized I still felt prejudiced against the
Japanese people. I blamed them for the death of my brother” (Ruff, 2001,
p. 238). She knew that this man was an American citizen. She knew that
he was a Quaker. She knew that he was a pacifist. She knew that his life’s
work consisted of providing for the needs of impoverished refugees. She
also knew that as a Japanese American, he was interned during the war, so
that it would have been physically impossible for him to hurt her brother if
he had wanted to. Still she blamed him for her brother’s death. Her feeling
did not seem to be a consequence of her cognitions, since the feeling con-
tinued in effect even when she rejected it cognitively. Whatever this is, it is
self-interest. Ruff herself did not think it was rational.
There are two points to note here. One is that “one did it/they all did
it” was irrational in the five cases. Levi and Fenelon knew that there were
antifascist Germans, some with fair hair and blue eyes. Evers knew that
there were white civil rights workers. Abuelaish personally knew Israelis
who grieved with him over the death of his children. Ruff knew that the
American Quaker had not harmed her brother. The other point is that Ruff,
Levi, Fenelon, Abuelaish, and Evers personally thought that “one did it/they
all did it” was wrong. Their feeling didn’t spring from their core beliefs; it
opposed them. There was an automatic aspect to the emotion. “One did it/
they all did it” may be best understood as a psychological illusion, compa-
rable to an optical illusion—just as normal, just as convincing, and just as
An enduring inherited trait must serve a function; otherwise it would
not have been conserved in evolution. An optical illusion produces a false
perception, but it is a side effect of modes of perceiving that ordinarily
2012] INDIVIDUAL PSYCHOLOGY OF GROUP HATE 25
work well. The rule against mating with the people one lived with as a
child does prevent inbreeding; it is simply “misapplied,” so to speak, in the
kibbutz case. “One did it/they all did it” must also have a function if it is an
evolved trait, or it must have had one in the evolutionary past.
“One did it/they all did it” might have evolved to give individuals pre-
cautionary fear (McDonald, Navarrete, & Van Vugt, 2012; van der Dennen,
1999). This hypothesis would explain the fact that bad deeds are genera-
lized to an entire group, while good deeds are not. The point of evolution is
survival, not truth. It would be more accurate to generalize good and bad
deeds equally, but it is safer to generalize bad deeds more. If James Byrd
had mistrusted all European Americans, he wouldn’t have gotten into a
truck with European American men near Jasper, Texas, and he wouldn’t
have ended up being dragged to his death at the end of a chain (Cropper,
1998). Too little trust is an error, but it is a less dangerous error than too
much trust. Collective mistrust may even produce errors more often than
not, and yet it may produce a net gain in fitness. Evolution may have erred
on the side of safety.
A feeling of “one did it/they all would” can be beneficial to the indi-
vidual who has it if it induces a precautionary fear. However, the discus-
sion cannot end here. The rule can be beneficial only if there is a body of
hostile or potentially hostile others, an enemy. It may produce errors often,
but it must also produce accurate fears sometimes or else it is useless. It
would have been useful if group violence was the usual social environment
as humans evolved. It is also significant that “One did it/they all did it”
involves more than fear. It involves hate. Presumably hatred is a motiva-
tion for initiating attacks on others. One must ask how attacks might serve
the interests of the individual’s genes.
It seems likely that the feeling “one did it/they all did it” is an inherited
trait. However, if we are to understand its function, we must consider it in
its social context, now and in the evolutionary past.
We cannot be certain of the course of evolution of a behavior. We
can’t observe the behaviors of the prehistoric past. However, we know that
capacities for behavior evolve along phylogenetic lines just as structures do.
Chimpanzees are our cousins and not our ancestors; nevertheless, their
behavior is suggestive evidence of what our ancestors may have done.
Their behavior is more likely to reflect an ancestral form where there is still
something in common between their behavior and ours.
Chimpanzee males go out in groups to raid neighboring communities.
26 JOURNAL OF HATE STUDIES [Vol. 10:15
Young males are especially eager to take part in raids. They enter the other
community’s range quietly. If they find an isolated individual, they attack,
screaming with excitement. A mother and baby are often targeted, since
mothers often forage without other adults nearby. The invading males seize
the baby and kill it by biting it and tearing it apart. They may kill the
mother in the same way. If they encounter a stronger party, they turn and
run. If the invading males do not flee fast enough, the native males may kill
them (de Waal & Lanting, 1997; Goodall, 1986; Wrangham & Peterson,
It is thought that destroying individuals in foreign communities serves
the reproductive advantage of the males because it removes competitors, or
future competitors. Male chimpanzees remain in the group of their birth
and so have few close relatives in the outgroups, but many in the ingroup.
The removal of competition benefits the male and his ingroup, which con-
tains many of his genes. By contrast, female chimpanzees migrate to new
groups at puberty or soon afterwards. Females do not ordinarily take part in
raids. Their close kin would not be favored if they did (de Waal & Lanting,
1997; Goodall, 1986; Nishida & Hiraiwa-Hasegawa, 1986; Wrangham &
Peterson, 1996). In the Belding’s ground squirrel, the sex roles are
reversed. It is the males who migrate out, and the females who remain in
their natal territory. Females make forays to unrelated neighbors’ burrows
to kill the young (Sherman, 1981).
It is important to note that chimpanzee raids occur in the absence of
any specific dispute over resources, territory, or mates. Apparently, the
animal’s psychological goal is the attack itself (Wrangham, 1999). We do
not know if the chimpanzees experience a subjective hatred. Perhaps they
simply enjoy the violence. We do know that they attack forcefully without
provocation. Typically, some of the raiders hold down the victim while
others hit, stamp, bite, and tear. Sometimes the raiders twist off limbs, or
drink the victim’s blood. These techniques are similar to those that chim-
panzees use against large prey, rather than those they use in intracommunity
fights. In all observed cases, the attack continues until the victim stops
moving (Goodall, 1986).
Chimpanzee males also fight each other for status within the commu-
nity, but the behavior is different. Group killing of an individual within the
community occurs, but it is unusual (Wrangham, 1999). Typically,
intracommunity fights involve threats and blows rather than biting, twisting
off limbs, and so forth. Fights usually end when the loser indicates submis-
sion by groveling or presenting sexually, and the winner accepts by a
friendly touch or gesture. The combatants have an ability to reconcile that
is surprising to human observers (de Waal & Lanting, 1997; Goodall, 1986;
Wrangham & Peterson, 1996). Blair concludes that chimpanzees must have
2012] INDIVIDUAL PSYCHOLOGY OF GROUP HATE 27
a “violence inhibition mechanism” or “VIM” that is activated by gestures of
submission. He suggests that normal human beings also have a VIM (Blair,
1995, p. 3).
A chimpanzee who has been attacked by foreign invaders will attempt
to placate the intruders by showing submission, but the attackers typically
ignore these attempts at appeasement (de Waal & Lanting, 1997; Goodall,
1986; Wrangham & Peterson, 1996). Apparently the violence inhibition
mechanism does not engage in this circumstance.
Chimpanzees form factions within the community. These are fre-
quently changed. The course of chimpanzee politics—who is aligned with
whom, who remains loyal, who has betrayed whom, or who has rebelled—
is a matter of great interest to the chimpanzees themselves and to the human
observers (de Waal, 1982; de Waal & Lanting, 1997; Goodall, 1986;
Wrangham & Peterson, 1996). Chimpanzees have politics in a sense quite
similar to the human sense. As noted, in intracommunity fights, gestures of
submission are often accepted peacefully, but they are rejected in intercom-
munity fights. Clearly, for chimpanzees, war (or raiding) is not the continu-
ation of politics by other means. It has different causes and it involves
different behaviors. It must depend upon different proximate, psychologi-
In their book
(1996), Wrangham and Peterson draw a
parallel between chimpanzee raids and human behaviors, especially the
raids and counter-raids of small, hostile human groups. We may ask
whether the analogy works.
Human wars are different from chimpanzee raids. Usually there are
resources in dispute. Most pogroms also involve motives in addition to the
violence itself. Pogroms against Jews in Europe and Armenians in Turkey
involved rape and plunder as well as unprovoked slaughter (Morgenthau,
2000; Strom & Parsons, 1982). Rape and plunder were significant factors
in the genocide against Tutsis in Rwanda (Des Forges, 1999). In many
traditional societies, raiding would also involve the taking of slaves, espe-
cially women and children (Keeley, 1996). Women’s hostility to enemy
groups may be related to the fear of rape (Navarrete, McDonald, Molina, &
Certain crimes in the United States do seem to resemble the chimpan-
zee raids. In some cases, coalitions of young men travel together to find
strangers to kill (Ranalli & Belkin, 2002; Manly & Nealon, 1992). For
example, in 2009, four teenaged boys in New Hampshire picked an isolated
house. On finding a sleeping mother and daughter, they slashed both with
machetes until their screaming stopped (MacQuarrie, 2010). There have
been reports of young men going out to find homeless people to beat and
28 JOURNAL OF HATE STUDIES [Vol. 10:15
murder (Ellement & Levenson, 2007; Lewan, 2007). In these incidents the
victims were not hated. The killings were done for fun.
In other cases, groups of men pick out a member of another ethnic
group to kill. There is no robbery (Levin & McDevitt, 1993). Such hate
crimes are often marked by overkill, that is, by torture before death and
continued attacks on the body after death (Allen, Als, Lewis, & Litwack,
2000). Women sometimes go along to watch, but rarely participate (Blee,
In 1981, three members of the Ku Klux Klan went hunting for an Afri-
can American to kill. There was an element of third-party revenge: Klan
leaders had asked for a killing of an African American because there had
been a hung jury in the case of an African American accused of killing a
European American (Smith, 1997). The three Klansmen selected a pass-
erby and forced him into a car at gunpoint. They asked his name, and he
told them: Michael Donald. They drove him to a secluded place and then
attacked him. At first he fought back with all his might, but finally he gave
over and lay still. They hit him more than 100 times with a tree limb. They
strangled him with a rope, slit his throat, and stomped on his face with their
boots. Then they hung his body from a tree. He was 19 years old (Smith,
1997; Toronto Star, February 5, 1988).
The prolongation of the killing suggests that the killers enjoy what
they are doing. Participants in some hate crimes have told investigators
directly that they enjoy the violence (Blee, 2002; Levin & McDevitt, 1993).
The men who killed Michael Donald had previously beaten a gay man at
the same spot (Smith, 1997). Like the prolongation, the repetition suggests
that the young men found the activity enjoyable in itself. The two motiva-
tions of hatred and enjoyment of violence may add to each other; certainly,
they are not mutually exclusive.
The chimpanzee and human killings are similar in form: A group of
young males go out together, find an individual they do not know, and kill
him or her. We do not know if they are homologous, that is, derived from
the same ancestral trait. If they are homologous, then violent conflict
between groups would have been the norm from the time of our common
ancestors with the chimpanzees, five to seven million years ago, until the
present day, as Wrangham and Peterson (1996) have argued. It would mean
that conflict is humankind’s baseline condition. In fact, the historical
record, the ethnographic record of nonliterate peoples, and the archeological
record all indicate that raiding has been all but universal (Keeley, 1996).
It may be the case that human raiding behaviors are an evolutionary
holdover. Where the relevant communities are not small, male kinship
groups, antiforeign violence may no longer confer a significant evolution-
ary advantage in and of itself. Since small patrilineal clans persisted well
2012] INDIVIDUAL PSYCHOLOGY OF GROUP HATE 29
into historical times, it may be that there simply has not been enough time
for the behavior to be selected out in response to the change. Or, it may be
that raids produce some other benefits often enough so that the trait is not
disadvantageous to the individual even now. Such benefits might include
incidental opportunities for rape and robbery that the sought-after violence
produces (see McDonald et al., 2012).
There is an obvious and significant difference between chimpanzee
raids and third-party revenge. There is no known provocation for the chim-
panzee raids, while third-party revenge is precisely a response to provoca-
tion. It is worthwhile to distinguish two points in this connection: (1)
Human males may still retain a chimpanzee-like disposition towards unpro-
voked raiding; and (2) Third-party revenge could result from a refinement
or redirection of the raiding genes. Evolution does not have the option of
starting fresh and most often achieves its results by reworking existing
traits. It may have done that here. We will return below to the questions of
how and why evolution might have redirected the raiding genes.
There is nothing in evolution that makes group-on-group violence
inevitable, even for species that live in groups. Such violence is actually
rare among vertebrates. The bonobo (
) is more closely related
to the chimpanzee (
) than the human is. The hominid line
diverged from the chimpanzee line about five million years ago, while the
bonobo line diverged just three million years ago (de Waal & Lanting,
1997). Bonobos live in communities, much as chimpanzees do. Neither
sex goes to raid foreign communities, so far as we know (Wilson & Wrang-
ham, 2003). This may be because bonobo females do not forage alone,
unlike chimpanzee females, and therefore do not present an easy target
(males do not forage alone in either species) (de Waal & Lanting, 1997).
Perhaps human evolution would have taken a different path if human
ancestors had resembled present-day bonobos. But once evolution starts
down a given path, the steps it takes constrain the steps it can take later.
Once a behavior has evolved, the individual must adapt to the presence of
that behavior in its conspecifics, whether or not the original reason for the
behavior still exists. Once group-on-group conflict evolved and became
widespread, individual human beings faced selection pressure to adapt to it.
If conflict was the norm in the environment of evolutionary adaptation,
individuals would have been selected for their ability to flourish during con-
flicts. Starting or ending enmity between groups would be important, but
unusual. Most of the time the primary task for the individual would be to
find his place in an ongoing conflict. He would need to know his ingroup
and his outgroup, and he would need to have appropriate feelings for each.
If the enemy is going to treat him as part of a group regardless of what he
does, then he will bear the cost of group-on-group conflict no matter what
30 JOURNAL OF HATE STUDIES [Vol. 10:15
he does. If he is to bear the cost anyway, then he might as well reap the
benefits of group defense, and offense.
Among chimpanzees, just being unfamiliar is enough to draw hostility.
Kohler found that a stranger female he attempted to introduce to his captive
group at Tenerife was attacked viciously (Goodall, 1986). Other primatolo-
gists were forced to abandon an attempt to release captive chimpanzees into
the wild in Senegal, because the rehabilitants were attacked and almost
killed by native chimpanzees (Goodall, 1986; Wrangham & Peterson,
1996). In the wild, young females usually change communities while they
are in estrus. This earns them a reprieve from the males. The resident
females are unfriendly, but they do not inflict serious injury.
Humans have a natural mistrust of the foreign and strange, but unfa-
miliarity by itself is not enough to label an individual an enemy alien. Peo-
ple didn’t anticipate the strength of the reaction of the chimpanzees to a
stranger, as they should have done if they had similar feelings. Evidently
this is a point in which humans and chimpanzees differ. The chimpanzee
knows every individual member of his group, which usually numbers fewer
than 60 (Nishida & Hiraiwa-Hasegawa, 1987; Goodall, 1986). The human
doesn’t know every member of his group, which can number in the hun-
dreds of millions. Lacking familiar/unfamiliar as the rule, humans must
employ other means of distinguishing ingroup from outgroup.
Familiarity is a necessary condition for a chimpanzee to be identified
as “one of us” by other chimpanzees, but it is not sufficient. Chimpanzee
communities can split into factions that travel about separately. In such a
case, one faction can attack the other, killing known and familiar individu-
als (Wrangham & Peterson, 1996). In this humans are similar to chimpan-
zees. During the genocide in Rwanda, teachers killed their students,
doctors their patients (Gourevitch, 1998), and pastors their parishioners
(Lacey, 2001). In Bosnia, friends killed friends (Hewstone & Cairns,
2001). Familiarity is not a sufficient condition for belonging in humans,
Human groups can form alliances with foreign groups. Chimpanzees
never do. While it is true that among humans, the allied “others” may not
be fully trusted, they are not necessarily hated either. For male chimpan-
zees, a foreign group, like a foreign individual, is always the enemy. For
humans, a group can be “other” without being “enemy.” This suggests that
“one did it/they all did it” might serve to indicate when an “other” group is
“enemy.” In humans, the identity of the outgroup is learned. It is possible
that “the ones who attack us” is a defining characteristic of “enemy group”
in the human mind, at the level of emotion. That is, an attack by a member
of a recognizable group may cause people to consider that entire group
“enemy,” even if they did not before. Or, if the group was already felt to be
2012] INDIVIDUAL PSYCHOLOGY OF GROUP HATE 31
“enemy,” the attack may intensify the feeling (see Bar-Tal & Labin, 2001,
for an example). The definitional limits, “who is in the other group,” must
be handled separately—maybe by explicit cultural belief, maybe by behav-
ior, maybe by place of residence, or maybe just by association. Dentan
(1992) suggests that attacks from other groups can also affect how one
defines one’s ingroup; peoples who are threatened en masse may begin to
see themselves as a unit even if they did not do so previously.
For the most part, the problem of how groups are defined is outside the
scope of this essay. However, it is worth noting that humans seem to have a
remarkably free hand in making up the definition of groups. Once a group
is defined it may come to be seen as a possible faction that could act in
unity against other factions (Sidanius & Pratto, 1999; Tajfel, 1981;
Kurzban, Tooby, & Cosmides, 2001). Humans readily favor the group that
includes the self, even when they are aware that an assignment to groups
has been made randomly (Tajfel, 1981). Nations are not the only communi-
ties that may be imagined (Anderson, 1983; Chirot, 1997).
Not all outgroups (groups to which one does not belong oneself) are
enemies, but once an outgroup is recognized, it can potentially be placed
into the emotional category “enemy.”
This general approach is not new. Barkow, among others, has sug-
gested that we inherit a predisposition for learning the hatred of other peo-
ples with ease (Barkow, 1989; McDonald et al., 2012). The hypothesis of
particular triggers for feelings of enmity is simply a more specific form of a
general hypothesis that has formed a part of the ethnocentrism literature for
some time. The underlying idea is that there is a constellation of emotions
for the “enemy.” These include hate and fear, as well as a kind of coldness
or shutting down of the empathy that might otherwise be available (Bar-Tal,
1989). Subjectively, the enemy is experienced as the source and cause of
the hatred and fear (Allport, 1954; Blee, 2002). Most people do not intro-
spect enough to consider that the first cause of the hatred might ever lie in
themselves; it is specifically located in the others in their imagination (Bar-
Tal, 1989). As the inhibition of empathy is preconscious, it would not ordi-
narily be the subject of reflection either.
The feeling for the category “enemy” is inherited, and the set of emo-
tions that accompany it is inherited, while the specific content of the cate-
gory is learned. An attack may be enough to bring up the entire set of
emotions, hate, fear, and coldness, or at least to lower the threshold for
them such that a cause for hate that would not be sufficient before the attack
would become sufficient afterwards. The emotional category could have
come down to us, with changes, from some antecedent feeling for outsiders
held by our common ancestor with the chimpanzees.
“The ones who attack us” is not usually enough to settle who is in the
32 JOURNAL OF HATE STUDIES [Vol. 10:15
other group and who is not. But if the other group is already defined as a
group of some sort, with some kind of boundary, then it may get the emo-
tional label “enemy,” and the emotions of enmity may extend out all the
way to the cultural boundary of the group, with or without cultural permis-
sion. The suppression of empathy towards the outgroup may share an
ancestral origin with chimpanzees’ refusal to relent in the face of submis-
sion gestures from an enemy. In Blair’s terms, the “violence inhibition
mechanism” would be suppressed (Blair, 1995).
We may distinguish between the defensive and the offensive aspects of
“one did it/they all did it.” The function of the defensive reaction, fear, is
clear. If another group is likely to be seeking to harm your entire group
including you, then it is to your advantage to fear them all at the first sign of
hostility, without waiting for experience with each individual. It may even
be to your advantage to anticipate the same type of harm that was inflicted
before, if whole groups do have customary methods of attacking.
The evolutionary advantage of the offensive reaction, the revenge
attack, is less clear. There are two benefits: the physical destruction of
competitors and the intimidation of the surviving outgroup members. These
benefits are spread over the avengers’ entire ingroup, while the risk is con-
centrated on the avengers themselves. How can the trait persist? Why
aren’t the individuals who don’t go on revenge raids favored over the ones
There is also a potential cost to the ingroup in that the outgroup may
be provoked to attack back, beyond whatever its baseline level of attacking
had been. It may seem contradictory to claim that the revenge attack both
intimidates the other group and provokes it to attack again. However, the
theory specifies only that the placement of a particular outgroup into the
category “enemy” produces hate, fear, and coldness. It does not specify the
ratio among them. Fear may be adjusted according to the perceived
strength of the enemy. People who want to strike back may decide not to,
either because of conscious deliberate thought or because of fear.
In the case of the unprovoked chimpanzee raids, the risk is small and
males do not go unless other males go with them, thus both diminishing and
spreading the risk. The preferred targets for raids are babies and isolated
females (Wrangham & Peterson, 1996). Perhaps in human third-party
revenge helpless third parties are also preferred targets, and group attacks
the preferred mode (Wrangham & Peterson, 1996; Des Forges, 1999).
The group that is assisted by a chimpanzee raid is a small group of the
males’ close kin. The attacker’s genes are benefited not only in his self, but
also in his kin. In the environment of evolutionary adaptation, humans
probably also lived in small kin groups, so this factor may have been strong
at the time revenge raiding may have evolved. Still, the behavior has per-
2012] INDIVIDUAL PSYCHOLOGY OF GROUP HATE 33
sisted into the present, when the relevant group is often not a small kin
group. It may be possible to explain the persistence of genes for the behav-
ior by appealing to cultural selection. To this day, many cultures reward
people, or just men, who take revenge, and punish those who refuse to do
so. This would be true, for example, in the Southern U.S. culture (Nisbett
& Cohen, 1966), in the revenge culture of Albania (Blumenfeld, 2002) and
Montenegro (Djilas, 1958), in traditional Melanesian cultures (Trompf,
1994), and among the Yanomamo of Brazil (Chagnon, 1992). These
rewards and punishments could make it more profitable for an individual to
take part in a revenge raid than not to, even where the profit is measured in
terms of the number of children a man is likely to have. Cultures that were
known to strike back may have survived better than cultures that were
known not to. Selection among cultures may have acted on the evolution of
To be clear, this is only an argument that revenge raiding may still be
adaptive, not that unprovoked raiding is. The idea is that a liking for raid-
ing might have been conserved because it is functional when it is combined
with the desire for group revenge. Sexual lust and love can occur together
or separately. Perhaps bloodlust and hatred can also occur together or sepa-
rately, and the separate trait of bloodlust may be conserved in part because
the combination was adaptive.
The eagerness to strike back against a group that has harmed the
ingroup is suggestive of the conflict between factions within a group.
Chimpanzees strike out against any alien group. It is not a question of
revenge. But, like humans, chimpanzees engage in extensive reciprocity
within their own communities. They tend to pay back help with help and
harm with harm. It is like revenge. Behaviors that our ancestors employed
towards intracommunity factions might gradually have come to be applied
across communities. If there was such a transformation, that would explain
why humans can ally with foreign groups; they have come to be treated like
factions, which can become allies even after they have been enemies.
One could ask how the transition could ever have been made, if our
common ancestor was like the chimpanzees of today. For a chimpanzee,
any lone outsider is subject to attack. How could a species have made the
jump from that position, to a position of accepting outsiders as allies? It
would be a surprising development, but not an inexplicable one. Chimpan-
zees already show that they do not keep intra-community fighting and inter-
community fighting perfectly distinct. If a subgroup of males withdraws
and moves out, it is subject to being treated as “enemy” later on. Perhaps
ancestral hominids could treat a former faction as “enemy,” yet later accept
it back in as an ally in factional strife. If domestic factions pass the border
of the group in both directions, if a “new” enemy can become an ally, then
34 JOURNAL OF HATE STUDIES [Vol. 10:15
it may not be so great a step to let in “old” enemies as allies, particularly if
language permits explicit bargains to be struck. There is an implication in
this for peacemaking: However intense the status of “enemy” while it lasts,
the status itself is not immutable. In theory, a given group that was once an
enemy could become an ally, as many do in fact.
If factional fighting played a role in the evolution of third-party
revenge, that would help to explain why women feel the emotions of third-
party revenge. Both female chimpanzees and female humans engage in fac-
tional fighting (Goodall, 1986; Pusey, Williams, & Goodall, 1997).
With this analysis in hand, we are in a better position to explain third-
party revenge. The explanation requires two steps. The first is that the
initial offense by members of another group causes ingroup members to see
the entire alien group as “enemy.” Respect and empathy are inhibited or
withdrawn towards individual enemies. The second step is that the emo-
tions of reciprocity are engaged: hurt and fury and vindictiveness. These
are emotions that had their evolutionary origin in encounters between indi-
viduals and small factions (de Waal, 1982). Oddly, the attack on innocent
and helpless members of another group is accompanied by an emotion of
moral self-righteousness (Lickel et al., 2006). The oddness consists in the
conflict with ordinary moral codes that are applied within the group. Some
cultures have noticed the oddness and proscribed third-party revenge, or
directed that it cannot be used against children, or against women, or
against unarmed persons caught unaware. Nevertheless, the impulse
towards it, righteousness and all, can often be detected in people from these
cultures (de Zayas, 1986; Ignatieff, 1997). Thus, third-party revenge raids
could have evolved from the combination in humans of two behavior pat-
terns that are separate in chimpanzees and may have been separate in our
common ancestors, as seen in deadly unprovoked raids on foreign commu-
nities, where revenge is not an apparent motive, and fighting between fac-
tions in the home community, where it is (see McDonald et al., 2012). The
intrusion of factional feeling into enemy relations would account for the
subjective moral indignation that accompanies these attacks on the
If we intuitively feel as if all of another group is “enemy” when any of
them attack us, it seems logical to ask whether we also feel as if all of
another group is “enemy” if any of us attack them.
A second defining characteristic of
in the human mind might be
“the people we attack.” That is, seeing members of one’s own group
attacking members of another might lead one to identify the other group as
2012] INDIVIDUAL PSYCHOLOGY OF GROUP HATE 35
“enemy.” Of course, if the other group also feels that if “one did it/they all
did it,” then they will be made into enemies by the attack itself even if they
were not enemies beforehand. In that case, it is quite accurate to see “the
people we attack” as enemies. Note that the reason for the attack is irrele-
vant. All that is necessary to invoke the response is the violent attack itself.
It might have been ordered by leaders to secure some advantage in power or
resources, without the leaders’ experiencing any particular animus towards
the victims at first, but if the hypothesis is correct, then the leaders and the
fighters would begin to hate after the fact.
The Semai-Senoi people of Malaysia are one of the most peaceful cul-
tures known. They deal with conflict with other peoples by retreating.
They have extremely low levels of individual violence within the culture.
Nevertheless, in the 1950s the British recruited some Semai men into the
army. The anthropologist Robert Knox Dentan wrote about the result:
Many people who knew the Semai insisted that such an unwarlike people
could never make good soldiers. Interestingly enough, they were wrong.
Communist terrorists had killed the kinsmen of some of the Semai
counterinsurgency troops. Taken out of their nonviolent society and
ordered to kill, they seem to have been swept up in a sort of insanity
which they call “blood drunkenness.” A typical veteran’s story runs like
this, “We killed, killed, killed. The Malays would stop and go through
people’s pockets and take their watches and money. We did not think of
watches or money. We thought only of killing. Wah, truly we were
drunk with blood.” One man even told how he had drunk the blood of a
man he had killed. (1968, pp. 58-59)
It is not clear whether the men had begun to hate the communists, or
whether they were simply swept up in the violence. Since communists had
killed their kinsmen, there could have been an element of third-party
revenge. In addition, if it is true that “the people we attack” are experienced
emotionally as enemies, then the fighting itself would have tended to make
them hate. This example is ambiguous since it is not clear whether the
Semai-Senoi began to hate the communists or whether they came to like the
violence; certainly they reached the point of coldness towards those they
The hypothesis implies that an attack by a few ought to stir the emo-
tion of hatred in the many. Osama bin Laden’s 2001 attack on the United
States should have increased hatred of the United States among people who
considered bin Laden a member of their ingroup. The effect might not
show in averaged results from questionnaires since it might have been
counteracted by increases in sympathy for Americans on the part of some,
but it should be detectable. There should be at least a segment of the popu-
36 JOURNAL OF HATE STUDIES [Vol. 10:15
lation(s) among whom hatred of Americans began or intensified. That is,
either the average should show increased hostility, or the population should
diverge, with some moving towards sympathy from their prior position, and
some towards antipathy. Of course, for a test of the hypothesis it would be
necessary to have given questionnaires immediately after 9/11/01, before
the United States’ attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq could provoke a Roque
The attacks against German Jews on
may have inflamed
German antisemitism by their very occurrence. For this reason the effect
may be called the “Kristallnacht effect.” The reaction can be summarized
as “we did it/they deserved it/hit them again.”
Similarly, in the communist revolution in China, the peasants’ attacks
on landlords may have increased hatred of the landlord class (Hinton,
This analysis would suggest a double danger in hate crimes. Hate
crimes might create new hate in the criminal’s group as well as in the vic-
tim’s. The injustice is complete: We are to hate people because
. As far as evolution is concerned, the injustice is beside the
point. Evolution is concerned with survival, not justice. To act as if the
group that has been attacked is “the enemy” would contribute to individual
and group survival.
This approach can explain the otherwise surprising fact that members
of powerful majorities sometimes feel fear of the very minorities that they
have been victimizing. It is not just that they have a realistic fear of repri-
sals. They have unrealistic fears too. Blee found members of antisemitic
hate groups who had little or no contact with actual Jews, but who believed
nevertheless that powerful Jews were doing them harm by damaging their
health, undermining their marriages, and preventing them from getting jobs.
They seemed sincere (Blee, 2002). It is not possible to imagine that these
antisemites derived these fears from evidence, and then derived their
hatreds from the fears. It is more likely that they felt hatred and fear and
produced these “reasons” for them after the fact.
Hatred serves to motivate attacks, and possibly to motivate a more
ferocious defense. Since it is safer to attack weak groups, there may be
more hatred against weak groups than against strong ones. Numerically
weak groups with economic resources have historically been subjected to
violence by stronger groups (Chua, 2003; van den Berghe, 1981). Even a
weak group without resources offers an opportunity for control of labor and
sex, so weakness rather than wealth may be the critical point (Human
Rights Watch, 1999; Varshney, 2002). The fear is there for two reasons:
First, outgroups are in fact often powerful and hostile; second, even a weak
outgroup that is not yet hostile may fight back if it is attacked. Once it is
2012] INDIVIDUAL PSYCHOLOGY OF GROUP HATE 37
attacked, it will act like an enemy. Fear should accompany the wish to
attack, so that the attackers can be prepared for retaliation. This anticipa-
tion of payback may be an effect of our having evolved to expect reciproc-
ity between factions in a society. The evolutionary incentives in dealing
with another faction are either to treat it well, so that the reciprocity will be
beneficial, or else to damage it so badly that it does not have the strength to
repay in kind. This may perhaps account for the extraordinary viciousness
with which lower-caste people are punished when they step out of line, as
well as for the energy that upper castes put into drawing the lines so as to
confine the lower castes as tightly as possible (Dray, 2002; Human Rights
Watch, 1999; Totten & Wagatsuma, 1966).
The idea is that the algorithms for hatred normally operate below the
level of consciousness, just as the neural mechanisms for constructing a
mental image of space do. It is not a question of repressing knowledge of
the triggers for hatred out of guilt. Since the mechanism operates outside of
consciousness anyway, there is no knowledge to repress.
The conscious explanations for the fear are extra. The mind assembles
acceptable conscious reasons to explain why a hated group should be hated,
regardless of the causative, unconscious reasons (see Gazzaniga, 1992). A
cleverer hater might come up with more convincing conscious reasons for
the fear than Blee’s informants did, but the reasons would still be secondary
to the emotion. Of course, when there is actual retaliation, then the retalia-
tion can be given as the reason for the fear, correctly enough.
In short, the mechanisms for producing hatred in the individual mind
may be exquisitely sensitive to the presence or threat of violent conflict.
That would explain the observation that “essentialist” concepts of the
enemy surface at times of violence, making negotiation and reconciliation
ever more difficult (Rothchild, 1997). The “essentialist” concept of evil in
an enemy group is the idea that the enemy is hostile in its very essence and
thus not susceptible to ordinary incentives for peace or compromise.
Cognitive dissonance could be appealed to as a supplementary or alter-
native explanation of “we did it/they deserved it/hit them again.” If one of
our (good) group attacks one of the outgroup, then we feel the victim must
have deserved it. A good person wouldn’t attack an innocent. It isn’t clear
outgroup should be hated and feared from cognitive disso-
nance alone, however. They might or might not be. The cognitive disso-
nance could be resolved by any of a number of thought patterns, including
blaming only the individual victim or victims. In contrast, the adaptationist
theory predicts group-wide hate and fear specifically. Nazi Germans would
be expected to hate and fear Jews more after
than before, and
European Americans to hate and fear African Americans more after a
lynching than before, because hate and fear are appropriate to the category
38 JOURNAL OF HATE STUDIES [Vol. 10:15
“enemy.” The difference in prediction in the two theories is that the adapta-
tionist theory predicts regularity in the emotional response to an attack
across times and places, while cognitive dissonance theory predicts varia-
bility. In practice, the test will be difficult to make because both theories
allow for some variability. Both theories admit that reality occasionally
intrudes into thought and feeling. In reality, Jews were less powerful after
than before, and African Americans probably less powerful
after a lynching than before, and therefore less to be feared. Both theories
admit that human reactions can be modified by culture. The adaptationist
theory predicts a stronger regularity than the dissonance theory does, but it
doesn’t predict perfect regularity.
It may not be necessary to participate in or even to observe an actual
attack on the enemy to induce new hate. The enemy may be “the people
that we hate” or “the people that we want to attack.” Fears can be learned
by observing fear in others. Perhaps hatred can be learned in the same way.
Researchers have demonstrated that monkeys can learn fears from
other monkeys. Most laboratory-reared rhesus monkeys are not afraid of
snakes, although wild-caught rhesus are terrified of them. Cook and
Mineka (1989) found that eight minutes of viewing a videotape of a rhesus
monkey screaming in the presence of a snake would leave a previously
naive laboratory monkey with a permanent fear of snakes. In another
experiment (Ohman & Mineka, 2001), the researchers edited out the image
of the real snake from the videotape and edited in a toy snake, a toy croco-
dile, a toy rabbit, or artificial flowers. The monkeys in the audience learned
fear of the toy snake and crocodile, but not of the rabbit or the flowers. It
seems that what the rhesus inherit is not a fear of snakes as such, but an
algorithm for learning the fear of snake-like things (perhaps long and scaly
things) from other rhesus.
Barkow (1989) has suggested that we inherit a special capacity for
learning the hatred of other groups. Perhaps humans have an inherited ten-
dency to acquire an attitude of hatred by imitating others’ hatreds. Obvi-
ously we do imitate others’ hatreds, especially in the case of children
imitating parents (Allport, 1954; Blee, 2002). Both innate and acquired
fears depend on activity in the amygdala nucleus of the temporal lobe of the
brain (Phelps & LeDoux, 2005). Activity in the amygdala during viewing
of an outgroup face correlates with implicit measures of fear or tension
towards an outgroup (Phelps et al., 2000).
Pathological fears, or phobias, develop towards threats that existed in
the environment of evolutionary adaptation, such as snakes and spiders, but
2012] INDIVIDUAL PSYCHOLOGY OF GROUP HATE 39
not to threats that came into existence more recently, like guns and knives.
Consequently phobias are thought to stem from evolved fears (Seligman,
1971; Seligman & Hager, 1972). Our inherited tendency to hate groups
may also be overexpressed in some cases (Poussaint, 2002; Dunbar, 2004;
Sullaway, 2004). An uncontrollable hatred could be called a
the Greek word for hatred,
The uncontrollable hatred of a group
could be called
As with fear, the level of hatred could be either
normal or pathological. People who suffer from pathological hatreds could
. The study of
may help us to understand normal
hatreds, much as the study of phobias has helped us to understand normal
Presumably there were originally simple markers that indicated who
the other group were. If our ancestors were like the chimpanzees, then the
first marker would have been unfamiliarity. Later it might have been some-
thing else, possibly physical strangeness or difference. Visual markers
could have become less and less important and cultural learning about “who
is the enemy” more and more important. Even if there is, or was, an inher-
ited tendency to learn the appearance of one’s own group, it would not
necessarily apply only to faces or bodies. A general tendency to look for
familiar appearance would also apply to clothing, body markings, and the
like (C. Surowiec, personal communication, 2001). This could be one
means by which a cultural group could be substituted for a biological one.
Language would be another (Kurzban, Tooby, & Cosmides, 2001), and cul-
tural moral systems yet another (van der Dennen, 1999). “The ones my
people hate” may also be a defining characteristic of “enemy”; this may
also apply as people choose up sides to form factions. In humans, the con-
cept of the “loyal opposition” may be obtainable only with a diligent cul-
If our evolution has prepared us to learn group hatreds with ease, then
the “free marketplace of ideas,” as Americans like to call it, is not a fair
market. Prejudice may have its thumb on the scales in that market, and
prejudice may be backed by adaptations for enmity.
The intensity of group hatred is sometimes attributed to the effects of
centuries of conflict, but this view is suspect. No person has more than a
single lifetime in which to learn to hate. The question is how the lesson
takes place. If we have a special propensity for learning hatreds from
others, then hatred could spread quickly through a population. This idea
could help to explain the paradox of German history. At the time of the
First World War, Germany was not more antisemitic than Russia or France
(Bauer, 2001), yet it was Germany that created the Holocaust of 1941-1945.
An antisemitic minority party came to power in 1933 and used the weapons
of totalitarian propaganda and political control to teach an extreme, nonsen-
40 JOURNAL OF HATE STUDIES [Vol. 10:15
sical antisemitism (Bauer, 2001; Dawidowicz, 1975). Hitler may have been
such an effective purveyor of hatred not because of his eloquence, which
was average, but because of the vividness of his emotional displays, which
was unsurpassed. His teaching could take hold in less than a generation
partly because a more moderate cultural antisemitism had prepared people
for the message, partly because the removal of Jews from social contact
with Gentiles removed the most obvious reality check, and partly—on this
hypothesis—because hatred is an easy lesson. If people feel as if hatred
makes sense, they may fail to notice when it doesn’t.
If we do have a prepared emotional category for “the enemy,” then the
very existence of that category may predispose us towards conflict.
Adapted emotions permit us to anticipate. The hungry child looks anx-
iously to see whether her brother has more food than she does, though her
mother has given them both the same amount. The jealous husband is sus-
picious of his wife’s sexual opportunities, though she doesn’t have any.
Perhaps we also look to find enemies.
If we have an innate tendency to identify an enemy group, we might
also have a psychological need to identify one. As George W. Bush put it
in the year 2000:
When I was coming up, it was a dangerous world, and we knew exactly
who the “they” were. It was us versus them. And it was clear who
“them” was. Today, we’re not so sure who the “they” are. But we know
they’re there. (Kornblut, 2000)
Van der Dennen (1999) remarks on the seeming affinity that people
have for the idea of an enemy. He raises the possibility that people enjoy
their “red-blooded” hatreds. Another possibility is that people already have
a sense of apprehension towards others, and feel more oriented when they
know who their enemy is. People seem slower to take on new enemies
when they already have old ones. Varshney found that when Shias and
Sunnis in India hated each other, they were slow to anger against Hindus;
and where lower-caste Hindus hated upper-caste Hindus they were slow to
anger against Muslims (Varshney, 2002). Perhaps the psychological need
for an enemy had already been satisfied.
It is generally true across species, that if the appropriate object for a
given evolved behavior is not available when an animal is primed for it, the
animal will treat the next-closest object as if it were the real thing
(Tinbergen, 1969; Lorenz, 1970). A pregnant mouse that is ready to build a
2012] INDIVIDUAL PSYCHOLOGY OF GROUP HATE 41
nest will carry soft wood shavings to one corner of her cage. If nothing soft
is available, she will carry whatever is there and deposit it, and if nothing at
all is available, she will carry her tail to the corner of the cage, and drop it,
and do it again. A cat that has no mouse to chase will pounce on a piece of
string. It isn’t going to eat the string, it just needs to hunt.
The English kept up a vigorous literary tradition of antisemitism for
400 years after the Jews were expelled from England (Goldhagen, 1996). A
story that is repeated for 400 years has to be a “good story” in the sense of
being emotionally satisfying. Apparently it is satisfying to have an enemy
If we need to locate an enemy, then there is a danger that people lack-
ing obvious enemies will begin to treat any group other than their own as if
it were the enemy. When no one else is available to be the enemy, co-
resident groups might be cast in the role no matter what they do. The trag-
edy of the Jews and the Roma in Europe may be explained in some part by
From prehistory onwards, most humans have been born into a setting
of violent conflict between groups. Consequently, humans may be
expected to be adapted to group conflict. One of the adaptations may be
anticipation of an enemy group. The mind may be prepared to treat ene-
mies with hate, fear, and the preconscious inhibition of empathy, or cold-
ness. Chimpanzees likewise have raiding against other groups. For male
chimpanzees, all groups except the natal group are enemies. Unlike the
male chimpanzees, humans must learn which outgroups are enemies. It is
proposed that we utilize three simple algorithms for this learning: (1) If any
members of an outgroup attack us, then that outgroup is enemy. All the
members of that group are suspected of being inclined to repeat the same
pernicious behavior. At the level of emotion, they are considered already to
have done it. Since the boundaries of the group are defined socially, they
vary by culture. Whatever the boundaries are, hate, fear, coldness, and the
specific accusation extend out to them, encompassing everyone within.
This explains the desire for third-party revenge. (2) If any member of the
ingroup attacks any member of an outgroup, then that outgroup is enemy.
If the first algorithm is correct, then the second one must be adaptive. We
would hate those we attack without being aware that the attack itself is a
cause of the hatred. (3) If other members of our ingroup hate an outgroup,
then that outgroup is enemy. These hypotheses describe only the psychol-
ogy of individuals, but they can account for considerable unity of action in
groups. The proposed algorithms would allow the individual to identify
42 JOURNAL OF HATE STUDIES [Vol. 10:15
likely sources of attack against himself and his group. At the level of the
individual, they facilitate the anticipation of danger. At the level of groups,
they sustain the cycle of violence.
If human feelings of enmity are innate and spontaneous, they are not
infinitely strong. It is possible to overcome them, but people need a reason
to do it. Conscience may provide a reason; but it must be admitted that
there are moral systems that require hatred as well as moral systems that
condemn it (Djilas, 1958; Lifton, 1986). Compassion may provide a rea-
son, especially in cases of personal acquaintance (Des Forges, 1999). Occa-
sionally the conflict between feeling and reality that the evolved
mechanisms set up provokes people into noticing the absurdity of human
feelings towards other groups (Lee, 1983; Levi, 1986; Oz, 2000; Twain,
1981). The psychological mechanisms behind hatred are not usually evalu-
ated at all, because people have no conscious awareness of them. One may
hope that an understanding of these mechanisms will foster compassion and
reason, or, at the least, an appreciation for the absurd in human behavior, in
opposition to the serious and unquestioning hatreds that are so common in
I thank Christina Surowiec for helpful commentary.
Communications can be addressed to the author at:
Willa Michener Center for International Studies,
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, E40-400,
1 Amherst Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139
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