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Are we born with the instinct to hate? Answered by Lu Fong and Elizabeth Blackwell

1. Expert Lu Fong The word hate is often thrown around rather casually in daily life. Its directed at vegetables, hairstyles, movies starring Steven Seagal. This is not hatred, simply a strong dislike. True hatred, as seen in the ugly history of war, crime and xenophobia, is multifaceted and difficult to pin down. The only thing we know for sure is that it appears to be deep-seeded in human culture. Where does it come from? Prevailing theories understandably dont have a single answer but some researchers point to our roots in tribal culture. Often, in groups of primates or wolves, maintaining an us versus them mentality toward outside tribes can be crucial for survival [source: Fishbein]. The same may have been true for early humans. We do have an undeniably strong urge to stick together in groups. In one landmark (and shocking) study, a teacher in Iowa performed an experiment in which shed divided her class of third graders into groups of blue-eyed students and dark-eyed students. For a day, the dark-eyed students were favored with privileges while the next day, the blue-eyed children were given preferable treatment [source: Bloom]. The result found that the favored group would quickly learn to ostracize the opposing group, even coining terms like blueys to berate the makeshift ethnic groups. Since that seminal experiment, similarly revealing studies have come to light. For instance, the arguably more famous Stanford Prison Experiment, which placed neutral volunteers in a prison setting and found that otherwise unbiased people could be psychologically manipulated into acting as a prisoner or a guard [source: Stanford News Service].

Despite these experiments however, most experts agree that intense hatred -- the kind that rips countries apart and institutionalizes criminals -- isnt naturally occurring. After all, that classroom of children was playing happily together prior to the experiment. (And after the experiment, it was even found that the previously ostracized blue-eyed group members were kinder to their dark-eyed classmates, perhaps due to their recent painful experience.) Instead, hate likely stems from a complex combination of cultural factors and learned biases. In short, we are born with the capacity to hate but not necessarily the instinct to hate. Thats something we acquire over time. More good news comes from a flood of recent studies which assert that empathy -or the ability to feel what others are feeling -- may be genetically ingrained. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison trained lab mice to react negatively to harmless stimuli, simply by associating it with the recording of a distressed fellow-mouse [source: Science Daily]. In short, the shock of hearing another mouses pain was automatically considered negative. The same is thought to be true for humans. This means that whatever were taught to hate throughout our individual lives, were also hardwired to share experiences with the people around us. More answers from Lu Fong

2. Contributor Elizabeth Blackwell Hate, like other emotions, originates in the amygdala, a section of the brain that triggers a physical response to external stimuli. In this sense, hate is an innate part of human emotional expression. We are all born with the ability to hate. However, what we hate and how we express it is learned behavior. Rush Dozier, who studied the emotions biological underpinnings in the book Why We Hate, found that it most likely developed as a mechanism of self-defense. When faced with danger, humans typically exhibit a fight or flight response: either they try to escape as quickly as possible, or -- if escape is not an option -- they defend themselves aggressively. The ability to feel hate allowed early humans to fight back against threats, by raising the heart rate and channeling a rush of adrenaline.

Over time, however, adaptations in the human brain have increased the importance of cultural messages over objective criteria. This means that hate can be taught and reinforced over time, even if it directly contradicts a persons own life experience. If we are raised to believe that people of a certain race pose a danger to our way of life, we will believe its the truth, even if we have never been threatened by or even met a person of that race. This cultural messaging explains, in part, the violent response many Southerners had to the Freedom Riders who came to register black voters in the early 1960s. Although the aim of the voter-registration drive was a peaceful one, some locals saw it as an assault on their communities and traditions. On the surface, the Freedom Riders were hardly threatening, yet they inspired hate all the same. Fortunately, there are strategies that can counteract the human impulse toward irrational hatred. Perhaps the most critical skill is the ability to think empathetically, to understand and respect the viewpoint of someone different from yourself (even if you dont agree with him or her).

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