"Long before it's in the papers"
January 28, 2015


Thin line between love, hate? Science explains why

Oct. 29, 2008

It of­ten sems a thin line be­tween love and hate, and now sci­en­tists think they know why.

Brain scans of peo­ple shwn im­ages of in­di­vid­u­als they hat­ed re­vealed a pat­tern of brain ac­ti­vity that partly oc­curs in ar­eas al­so ac­tivated by ro­man­tic love, Semir Zeki and John Paul Ro­maya of Uni­ver­s­ity Col­lege Lon­don re­ported on Oct. 29.

“This link­age may ac­cunt for why love and hate are so closely linked to each oth­er in life,” the re­search­ers wrote in the Pub­lic Li­brary of Sci­ence jour­nal PLoS One. “Our re­sults show that there is a un­ique pat­tern of ac­ti­vity in the bain in the con­text of hate.”

In their stu­dy, the re­sarch­ers showed 17 men and wom­en pic­tures of some­one the vol­un­teers said they hat­ed along with three fa­mil­iar, neu­tral faces. The hat­ed in­di­vid­u­als were all form­er lovers or work ri­vals, ex­cept for one fa­mous pol­i­ti­cian.

The brain scans idn­ti­fied a pat­tern of ac­ti­vity in dif­fer­ent ar­eas of the brain the re­search­ers called a “hate cir­cuit” that switched on when peo­ple saw faces they de­spised, the re­search­ers said.

“As far as we can de­ter­mine it is un­ique to the sn­ti­ment of hate even though in­di­vid­ual sites with­in it have been shown to be ac­tive in oth­er con­di­tions that are re­lat­ed to hate,” the re­search­ers wrote.

The so-called hate cir­cit in­cludes struc­tures in the cor­tex and the sub-cor­tex and rep­re­sented a pat­tern dis­tinct from emo­tions such as fear, threat and dan­ger, Zeki said in a tel­e­phone in­ter­view.

One part of the brain that swiched on was an ar­ea con­sid­ered crit­i­cal in pre­dict­ing oth­er peo­ple’s ac­tions, some­thing that is likely key when con­fronting a hat­ed per­son, the re­search­ers said.

The bain ac­ti­vity al­so oc­curred in the pu­ta­men and in­su­la, two ar­eas ac­tivated when peo­ple viewed the face of a loved per­son. Sci­en­tists have linked the re­gions to ag­gres­sive ac­tion and dis­tress­ing situa­t­ions, Zeki said.

But there were im­por­tant dif­fer­ences as well. A big­ger part of the cer­e­bral cor­tex—an ar­ea linked to jdg­ment and reasoning—de-ac­tivates with love com­pared to hate.

While both emo­tions are all-consuming pas­sions, it may be that po­ple in love are of­ten less crit­i­cal and judg­mental about their part­ner but need to main­tain their fo­cus when deal­ing with a hat­ed ri­val, the re­search­ers said.

“It is more likely that in the con­text of hate the hat­er may want to ex­er­cise jdg­ment in cal­cu­lat­ing moves to (cause) har­m,” Zeki said in a state­ment.

* * *

Send us a comment on this story, or send it to a friend


Sign up for

On Home Page         


  • St­ar found to have lit­tle plan­ets over twice as old as our own

  • “Kind­ness curricu­lum” may bo­ost suc­cess in pre­schoolers


  • Smart­er mice with a “hum­anized” gene?

  • Was black­mail essen­tial for marr­iage to evolve?

  • Plu­to has even cold­er “twin” of sim­ilar size, studies find

  • Could simple an­ger have taught people to coop­erate?


  • F­rog said to de­scribe its home through song

  • Even r­ats will lend a help­ing paw: study

  • D­rug may undo aging-assoc­iated brain changes in ani­mals

It often seems a thin line between love and hate, and now scientists think they know why..