Have you ever heard the cliche, “no bond is stronger than two people who hate the same person?” It turns out there is actually some truth to that statement. Despite hating people being a socially unacceptable act, on the few occasions when people have the guts and/or strong emotion to motivate them to share their negative opinions about a person, it often pays off in the form of new or stronger connections.
Research has found that people form stronger bonds when they are able to talk about their dislike toward someone else than when they both have positive feelings toward someone. The question is, why does an action as disrespectful as spewing negativity about other people increase hateful individual’s quantity and quality of connections?
The Fiery Emotions that Fuel Hatred
If you are a generally positive, forgiving person, the concept of hating others, much less someone you barely know, is a foreign concept to you. The majority of the time, people don’t say hateful things because they are a cruel, judgemental, antisocial person. Instead, common feelings and psychological needs bring out the worst behaviors in some individuals and prompt them to say negative statements about another person.
Here are four of the primary reasons why people hate others:
#1 People want a scapegoat
When you are struggling, whether it’s problems at work, low self-esteem, conflicts in your relationships, etc., it feels much better to funnel your negative energy into blaming someone else than to confront your own role in your problems. A lot of people join hate groups because it allows them to funnel the blame for all of their problems into another group of people while being supported by a group of people who share their beliefs and make them feel like they belong.
#2 They’re lonely and seeking connections, even hateful ones
Many other people join hate groups because it fills their need for friendship and belonging. You don’t need to do or be anything special, all you have to do is be negative towards other people. It feels easy. Likewise, some people find it easier to make connections by putting others down and seeing who agrees than to prove to people that they are interesting and valuable companions.
#3 They fear the unknown
When someone new enters a group, particularly if they are in a position of influence, many people immediately begin gossiping negative things about the person because they fear how that individual will change their group dynamics. Sharing hatred toward the new person is a way for the existing group to strengthen their bonds in defensive against the outsider.
#4 Their insecurities get the best of them
Hatred also surfaces when people are highly insecure. Often, they’ll compare themselves to other people and when they come to the conclusion that the other person may be better than them or possesses traits that they don’t want to acknowledge that they also share, people may speak out against that person to project their anxiety onto them.
Understanding the Bonding Power of Hatred
Expressing dislike for other people is controversial. We’re taught from a young age that you should only say nice things about other people, so when someone says something negative, it catches other people’s attention and draws them in. If people share the negative opinions, it opens the ability for people to form connections in three key ways:
#1 Hatred defines social lines
Humans desire structure and certainty in their social lives. To establish that, people naturally divide into in-groups (social circles where everyone feel like they belong with one another) and out-groups (people who exist outside of social circles and are typically not welcomed into them). When people declare their dislike for others, it helps people understand the boundaries between social circles. This is a powerful motivator for people to form bonds because it satisfies their need to feel connected to others.
#2 Mutual dislike evokes a stronger response than mutual like
In one study, people were shown a video of two people having a conversation in which the man is politely hitting on the woman. After being asked if they liked or disliked the man, they were told they were going to meet people who shared their opinion of them and asked how likely they were going to get along with the person they meet. People who had a negative opinion of the man were far more likely to say they would get along well with someone who shared their negative opinion than those who had a positive opinion.
#3 Sharing hatred can be an expression of vulnerability
Research shows that to form lasting, intimate bonds with people, you have to be vulnerable with them–that is you have to share your authentic, unfiltered feelings. Instead of being negative toward another person because of the internal struggles described above, you may share that you hate someone for a valid, personal reason such as they hurt you or hurt someone and/or something you care about. This instance is a moment of vulnerability because you are sharing a difficult experience which can lead others to hate the other person on your behalf and bond with you.
Bonds of Hatred Come at a Cost
Though there are some bonding benefits to spewing negativity about other people, don’t try to use this tactic to make friends because its risks far outweigh any good that comes from it. Be aware of these potential consequences of speaking poorly about others:
To know if someone else dislikes the same person as you, one of you has to make the first move and say something negative. This can come at a serious cost to your reputation of people around you if they do not agree with your negative opinions. Researchers have discovered that when we hear someone talking about other people, we impose the content of what’s said onto the speaker. It’s a phenomenon called spontaneous trait transference and to understand how it works, pretend you and I met at a conference and are having a conversation like this:
You: “Hey Vanessa, what did you think of the last speaker?”
Me: “Ugh, he was so boring and dry. I had trouble keeping myself awake.”
This can go one of two ways: If you also thought the speaker was boring, we would bond over our shared dislike of him. But, if you thought the speaker was interesting or at the very least, deserving of a decent review, you would hear my opinion and think that I am boring and dry because your brain would project my statements onto me. It might not be instantaneous or something you’re fully conscious of, but how you feel about me would decrease in response toward my negativity toward another person.
On the flip side, if I raved about how intelligent the speaker was and how I loved his energy, your brain would also project those traits onto me and give you a more positive impression of me.
Another danger of sharing negative opinions toward other individuals, particularly when you are with people you don’t know well is that you create a negative emotional impression of yourself. People only remember a small portion of what you say however, they develop concrete memories of how you made them feel. If your words evoke anger, frustration, disgust and other cynical emotions in other people, they are going to associate those feelings with you. Most people don’t like feeling those ways and may be less eager to see you in the future because you bring down their emotional state.
Bottom line: Given these risks, unless your hatred is founded in a socially acceptable ideological belief, comes from a personal experience of being hurt or could be otherwise justified by most people, it is best to keep it to yourself.
About Vanessa Van Edwards
Lead Investigator, Science of People
I’ve always wanted to know how people work, and that’s what Science of People is about. What drives our behavior? Why do people act the way they do? And most importantly, can you predict and change behavior to be more successful? I think the answer is yes. More about Vanessa.
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