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The origin of political hatred is in the past of mankind

According to the expert, it is very easy to provoke this feeling of “us against them” in laboratory experiments, using the most basic excuses.

Reynaldo Jose Lopez

Kids fighting at school over presidential elections, families torn apart, old friends even shooting each other to vote for different candidates; such situations have multiplied during the 2022 pre-election campaign, but there is nothing particularly unexpected about them.

A wide range of studies show that human beings in all times and places are prone to such behavior in the face of loyal political opponents. The dynamics that lead people to see themselves as members of groups that are separate from others often also lead to the dehumanization of those outside of those groups. The distance between that and physical violence is relatively small.

According to Paul Bloom, a specialist in developmental psychology at Yale University (USA), it is very easy to provoke this feeling of “us against them” in laboratory experiments, under the strangest pretexts. He says that a classic survey did this by showing participants modernist paintings by two different artists: the Russian Wassily Kandinsky and the Swiss Paul Klehn.

People had to say which artist was their favorite, dividing into “Kandinsky fans” and “Klee fans”.

In reality, however, the assignment of paintings to artists was done at random, so the supposed fan groups had nothing to do with the actual taste of the participants. The volunteers, however, had no idea.

When researchers asked, say, a “Klee fan” whether he thought the other members of his group were smarter than the “Kandinsky fans,” he would usually say yes. Worse, people were also said to be more willing to give money to an alleged fan of the same artist than to members of another group.


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According to Bloom, similar effects occur even when the groups are formed by flipping a coin, and when the participants in the experiment know that the division was made that way. It’s the same phenomenon that often happens in the “small groups” of allies formed on reality shows, where people who have never seen each other in their lives develop a fierce loyalty to each other just days after the show.

Everything shows that the origins of this mechanism lie in the distant past of humanity, when relatively small groups (a few hundred people at most) corresponded to independent political and social units. Since the present states had no police, judges, or any other formal apparatus, any group could be attacked by others without legal retribution.

Therefore, the internal cohesion of each group, as well as the “us versus them” mentality, have been essential to the self-defense of these small-scale societies for tens of thousands of years of human prehistory. To strengthen the bonds between the members of these societies, elements such as distinctive clothing and adornment, customs, myths, legends, and religious beliefs began to emerge and become increasingly complex.

Although partisan politics is an extremely recent phenomenon in much of the world, it is capable of acting as a cognitive “puller.” In other words, it builds on this kind of more basic tribal instinct, taking advantage of its infrastructure to reinforce identities and incite conflict.
A study published in 2020 in Science, coordinated by Eli Finkel of Northwestern University, showed how this has been playing out with Democratic and Republican voters in the United States in recent decades.


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Since both parties have existed since the 19th century, there have already been many ideological convergences and even exchanges of positions between them. 150 years ago, the Democrats, today associated with the banners of social equality, opposed the abolition of slavery, while the Republicans supported, for example, the right to vote for former slaves. In the 20th century, until the 1960s, the flags of the two parties differed only slightly.

However, cultural changes after the 1960s ushered in a growing divide, leading most Democrats and Republicans today to reject the idea of ​​having a neighbor from an opposing party or marrying their children’s children.

Moreover, according to the study, both parties have very distorted views of the nature of the other. Republicans believe 30% of Democrats are LGBTQIA+, for example (the real number is 6%). Democrats believe that 40% of Republicans are wealthy, earning more than $250,000 a year (actual data: 2%).

According to the researcher, the three elements make the two groups more and more closed within themselves. The first is the so-called “other”, the tendency to think that the political opponent is Other with a capital O, strange and alien. The second is dislike and mistrust of one’s opponents, and the third is moralization, the idea that the other is not only misguided but essentially evil.


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The role of political leadership cannot be ignored in this. Several recent studies indicate that in countries where political leaders use violent rhetoric in their speeches, the distance between words and actions is narrow, with domestic terrorism and aggression against immigrants increasing.

Is there an antidote? Being aware of what is happening on an individual level is the first step. “An effective way to combat this, according to some studies, is to emphasize the moral similarities and commonalities between ‘us’ and ‘them,'” says Marco Antonio Correa Varella, a postdoctoral fellow and visiting professor in the Department of Experimental Psychology. USP.. “Emphasize that we are all human, with families, friends, special names, language, dreams and the will to survive.”

“An effective way to combat this, according to some studies, is to emphasize the moral similarities and commonalities between ‘us’ and ‘them.’ Emphasize that we are all human, with families, friends, special names, language, dreams, and the will to survive.
Marco Antonio Correa Varella
Postdoctoral Fellow and Visiting Professor in the Department of Experimental Psychology at USP


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