Why your brain hates other people

And how to make him think differently


As a child, I saw the 1968 version of the movie Planet of the Apes. As a future primatologist, I was fascinated by him. Many years later, I found a joke about the filming of this film: at lunch, people who played chimpanzees, and people who played gorillas, ate in separate groups.

They say that "In this world there are two types of people: those who divide people into two types, and those who do not divide." In fact, the first kind of people is much more. And the consequences of dividing people into “ours” and “not ours”, members of our group and others, people and “others”, can be very grave.

All people draw the distinctive “friend / foe” line by race, ethnicity, gender, language group, religion, age, socio-economic status, and so on. And this is not good. We do this surprisingly quickly and efficiently from a neurobiological point of view. We have a complex taxonomy and classification of ways that we slander "them." We do this with variability ranging from petty minute aggression to savage slaughter. We also constantly determine what is wrong with “them”, based on pure emotions, followed by primitive rationalization, which we confuse with rationality. It's sad.

But, most importantly, there is reason for optimism. For the most part, because we all have many different definitions in our head, we / they. “They” in one case may turn out to belong to the category “we” in another, and the transition from there to here may take a moment. So there is hope that with the help of science, an earthquake and xenophobia can subside, perhaps even to the extent that Hollywood chimpanzees and gorillas can dine together.

The power of the idea of ​​"their" against "alien"

Essential evidence suggests that the division of the world into friends and foes is deeply rooted in our brain, and is an ancient evolutionary heritage. To begin with, we note that we define the differences between ours and others with amazing speed. Shove a person in fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) - a brain scanner that detects activity in different parts of the brain in certain circumstances. Quickly show him the photos so that each of them lasts only 50 milliseconds — 1/20 of a second — it barely exceeds the recognition level. It is noteworthy that even in such a situation, the brain will process the images of other people differently than its own.

This effect is comprehensively investigated in relation to different races. Quickly show a person photographs of people of your own or another race, and, on average, when viewing images of people of another race, a person's cerebellar amygdala, a brain area associated with fear, anxiety, and aggression, was excited. Moreover, the faces of people of other races less activate the fusiform cortex , which specializes in facial recognition. In addition, people worse remember the faces of other races. Watching a movie in which a person’s hand was pricked with a needle causes a “isomorphic reflex” in which part of the motor area of ​​the cortex associated with hand movements is activated, and the hand of the beholder jerks - if the film does not show the hand of a person of another race, in which case this effect weaker.

Brain errors associated with dividing us and them are also demonstrated by the hormone oxytocin. He is known for his participation in social activity - he makes people become more trusting, responsive and generous. But it only affects your behavior towards the people of your group. In relation to outsiders, he acts exactly the opposite.

The automatic, unconscious nature of the reaction of one’s own / alien indicates the deep nature of this mechanism. This can be demonstrated with a damn ingenious test for hidden associations. Suppose you are strongly opposed to trolls, and believe that in development they are below people. This can be detected with the help of a test for hidden associations, where subjects look at images of people or trolls combined with words of a positive or negative character. These couples may support your inclination (say, a person’s face and the word “honest”, the face of a troll, and the word “treacherous”), or they may go against her. And people take a little more time, some fraction of a second, to process conflicting pairs. This happens automatically - you do not become enraged about the business practices of the Troll clans or the Troll brutality in the Battle of Gdetoburg in 1523. You process images and words, and your anti-trolling inclination causes you to subconsciously stop because of the dissonance linking the troll to the "beautiful" or the person to the "stinky."

We are not alone who divides everyone into ours / aliens. It is no secret that other primates may conduct cruel divisions into their own / alien. Chimpanzees get together and systematically exterminate the males of the neighboring group. Recent studies that adapt the test for hidden associations to other species show that even other primates have hidden negative associations with strangers. Rhesus macaques look either at images of members of their group, or at images of strangers, paired with pictures of things with positive or negative overtones. Macaques look at couples longer for their inclinations (for example, images of members of their group paired with images of spiders). These macaques do not just fight with neighbors for resources - they associate negative associations with them. "Those guys look like nasty spiders, and we, we look like fragrant fruits."

How strongly the concept of one’s own / alien is rooted in the brain is manifested through: the speed and minimum set of stimuli needed to handle group differences in the brain; the tendency to build a group on the basis of arbitrary criteria, and endowing these criteria with an allegedly rational meaning; unconscious automation of a similar process; its rudiments in other primates. As we shall see, we usually think of our own, but not of others, quite straightforwardly.

Nature of their

In different cultures and throughout history, people belonging to their group are considered in a superior manner - we are the most correct, intelligent, highly moral and worthy. It also includes the swelling of the advantages of its inherent characteristics — rationalization of why our food is tastier, music more inspiring, language more logical or poetic.

Belonging to one's own means having obligations towards members of the group - for example, during a study at a sports stadium, a scientist who pretended to be a fan and was wearing a sweater from one of the teams was more likely to receive help from another fan of this team than from fans of the opponent.

Intra-group favoritism raises the main question - do we need our own people to be doing well by maximizing their wealth, or simply better than others, by maximizing the difference between us and them?

Usually we declare the desire for the first option, but at the same time we can secretly desire the second. This can be a blessing - in a difficult race, the loss of a hated rival to a third party will be as desirable as the victory of his team, and sports fans both equally activate the brain regions responsible for the reward and production of the neurotransmitter dopamine. But sometimes choosing “better than” instead of “good” can lead to disaster. It is hardly worth rejoicing at winning in the Third World War if we have two clay huts and three torches left, and they have only one of the two.

One of our most socially oriented actions towards members of the group is the willingness to forgive their transgressions. When strangers do something wrong, essentialism works - this is because they are, in fact, always have been and always will be. When we make mistakes, we tend to situational interpretations - we are usually not the same, and here are extenuating circumstances explaining why we did it. Situational explanations of misdemeanors explain why lawyers are looking for jurors who will consider the defendant as one of their own.

Something quite different and quite interesting can happen when someone's misdemeanor opens up his dirty laundry, confirming a negative stereotype. Intra-group shame can lead to cruel punishments from outsiders. Take Rudolph Giuliani [American politician, Mayor of New York in 1994–2001 from the Republican Party - approx. transl.], who grew up in Brooklyn in the Italian-American enclave, where he organized organized crime (Father Juliani sat for armed robbery, and then worked for a mafia lender). Giuliani became famous in 1985 as a prosecutor who accused the heads of the “five families” at the trial against the mafia , which, as a result, destroyed them. He wanted very much to refute the stereotype according to which “Italian American” was synonymous with organized crime: “If the successful accusation is not enough to eliminate the prejudice associated with the mafia, then probably nothing will help to eliminate it”. If you want someone to savagely judge a member of the mafia, find a proud Italian American who is angered by the stereotypes created by the mafia.

Thus, belonging to one’s own carries with it a whole list of expectations and commitments. Is it possible to switch from one category to another? This is easy to do in sports - when a player moves to another club, he does not serve as a fifth column, playing poorly so that his old team has an advantage. In the center of the contractual relationship is the equivalence of the employer and the employer.

At the other end of the scale is their affiliation, not to be discussed. People do not move from Shiites to Sunnis , from Iraqi Kurds to Saami reindeer herders . A rare Kurdish will want to be a Saami, and her ancestors will probably turn over in their coffins when she touches her first deer. Deserters are often avenged by those from whom they split - Meriam Ibrahim was sentenced to death in Sudan in 2014 for adopting Christianity - and those whom they joined are suspicious of them.

Alien nature

Consciously or emotionally, we do not love strangers?

The cognitive justification for dividing oneself / others is easy to articulate. The ruling classes make amazing somersaults to justify their status quo. You also have to make efforts to justify a good stranger who has helped us with something: “Ah, this stranger is different from the rest.”

To represent strangers in threatening light requires cognitive subtleties. Fear of being robbed by someone else abounds in pretense and particularism. But in order to fear that strangers will take our jobs, manipulate banks, dilute our gene pool, etc., economics, sociology and pseudoscience are required.

When the Confederate general was wounded during the US civil war, he gave a secret Masonic badge recognized by an officer of the Union who defended him and sent him to the Allied Hospital.

Despite the role of reasoning, the essence of division into one’s own / others is emotional and automatic, and this is described by statements like: “I can’t say exactly why, but it’s wrong when others do it”. Jonathan Haydt from New York University showed that reasoning often turns out to be excuses for feelings and intuition experienced in the past, and is needed to convince ourselves of the rationality of our choice.

This can be demonstrated in studies using snapshots of the brain. When a person sees a stranger’s face, his amygdala is activated. And this happens much earlier (on the time scale of the brain) to activate the cortex, which is responsible for conscious reasoning. Emotions are triggered first.

The most convincing evidence that a negative attitude towards strangers appears during emotional, automatic processing is that supposedly rational arguments about strangers can be subconsciously manipulated. Here are some examples of the results of the experiments. Show the subjects slides with photos of a little-known country; if people’s faces appear between slides, expressing fear, and at such short intervals that they can only be perceived subconsciously, then the subjects will have a more negative impression of the country as a whole. Being close to the unpleasant-smelling garbage makes people more conservative about the characteristics of representatives of foreign groups. Christians speak worse of those who do not belong to this religion if they have just passed by the church. In another study, people who get to work by train, at bus stops located in places where mostly white people live, filled out questionnaires about political affiliation. Then, at half the stations, pairs of Mexicans appeared daily for two weeks. They were conservatively dressed and talked quietly. Interestingly, the presence of such couples led to the fact that people began to support more the reduction of legal immigration from Mexico and the law that made English official, and less support for the amnesty of illegal immigrants. At the same time, their attitude towards Asians, Blacks or Arabs has not changed. In another study it turned out that during ovulation, women are more negative towards men.

In other words, our intuitive and emotional attitudes towards strangers are due to hidden forces, the existence of which we did not suspect. And then our consciousness strives to catch up with the emotional “I”, creating a set of facts or a valid fake explaining why we hate others. This is a kind of variant of such cognitive distortion, as a tendency to confirm one's point of view : it is better to memorize facts supporting the point than to disprove; check things so that the results support, but do not refute the hypothesis; more skeptical about results that you don’t like than what you like.

Heterogeneity of strangers

Of course, different types of aliens cause different feelings (and various neurobiological reactions). Most often, strangers are seen as threatening, evil, and unworthy of trust. In economic games, people treat members of other races as less worthy of trust or reciprocity. To white people it seems that the faces of blacks are angrier than the faces of whites, and are more likely to attribute the evil faces of an undefined race to a race other than their own.

But strangers cause not only a sense of threat; sometimes it's disgust. Here comes into play a part of the brain called the islet lobe , or islet. In mammals, it reacts to the taste or smell of rot, and causes stomach cramps and gag reflex. In other words, it protects animals from poisonous food. However, in humans it controls disgust, associated not only with sensations, but also with morality - if the subjects recall any vile deed, or see an image of morally repulsive actions, their island is activated. Therefore, there is no metaphor in that we are sick of things disgusting from a moral point of view. And strangers, causing disgust, activate the islet no less than the amygdala.

It is difficult to experience unpleasant feelings on an intuitive level towards others; It is difficult for an island to cope with the disgust associated with the abstract beliefs of another group. Your / someone’s markers provide the basis for this. Now, if we say that our disgust with respect to strangers is due to the fact that they eat nasty, sacred or very cute things, pour themselves with disgusting flavors, wear a vulgar dress - such characteristics will be swallowed by the island. In the words of psychologist Paul Rosina of the University of Pennsylvania: "Disgust is an ethnic marker or a sign of belonging to a group." The decision that strangers eat disgusting things makes it easier to decide that strangers have disgusting ideas, for example, in the field of deontology .

And there are also strangers who can be mocked - that is, use humor as a weapon. When an alien group makes fun of our group - it is a weapon of weak aliens trying to weaken the chain of command. But when our group makes fun of someone else - it reinforces negative stereotypes and hierarchy.

Aliens are also often seen as a more homogeneous mass than their own, with simplified emotions and reduced sensitivity to pain. For example, be it Ancient Rome, medieval Europe, imperial China or the pre-war South, the elite has justifying stereotypes for slaves - they are stupid, like children, incapable of independence.

Thus, different aliens are of different kinds, but with one essence - they are threatening and evil, disgusting and repulsive, primitive and undifferentiated.

Cold and / or incompetent

The important work of Susan Fisk from Princeton University is studying the systematics of others, which is in our mind. She found that we are trying to divide strangers into categories along two axes: warmth (whether a person or group belongs to enemies or friends, wants good or evil) and competence (how effectively a person or group can carry out its plans).

These axes are independent. Ask the subject to evaluate someone; if you give him hints on the status of a person, it affects the ratings on the scale of competence, but not warmth. If you give him hints of competitiveness, the effect is the opposite. These two axes form a matrix with four corners. We ourselves rank highly both on the scale of warmth and on the scale of competence (V / V). Americans usually appreciate good Christians, black professionals and the middle class.

There is another extreme, low rated for warmth and competence (N / N). Such ratings are assigned to homeless people and drug addicts.

There is an area of ​​high warmth and low competence (V / N) - people with mental problems, people with disabilities, decrepit old people. Low heat and high competence (L / H) - how people from “developing countries” evaluate Europeans who colonized them (here competence is not a set of skills or knowledge, but the efficiency with which people, say, steal the land of your ancestors), and how many US minorities belong to whites. This is a hostile stereotype with which Asians are treated in the USA, Jews in Europe, Hindus in East Africa, Lebanese in West Africa, Chinese in Indonesia, the rich are poor - they are cold, greedy, closed in their circle, but if you are seriously ill, go to that doctor.

Each extreme case causes persistent sensations. B / B (for example, your own) is pride. N / B - envy and outrage. V / N - pity. N / N - disgust. Viewing people in the N / N category activates the amygdala and the islet, but not the spindle-shaped gyrus, which is responsible for face recognition; the same is obtained, for example, from viewing a photograph of a wound struck by the larvae. On the contrary, viewing images of people of categories N / B or B / N activates the emotional and cognitive part of the frontal cortex.

Places located between the extremes, cause their characteristic reactions. People who cause feelings between pity and pride, cause the desire to help. Between pity and disgust, there is a desire to humiliate and drive out. Between pride and envy is the desire to attract and gain. Between envy and disgust is the most hostile desire to attack.

Most of all I like to change someone's division into categories. The most understandable changes are the change of status of high warmth and high competence (I / O)

There is also a transition from N / N to N / B. When I was a child in the 60s, the local attitude of Americans to Japan was in the first category. Shadow of the Second World caused dislike and contempt, and the label “Made in Japan” was related to cheap plastic junk. And then suddenly “Made in Japan” began to mean an advantage over American automakers.

When a homeless person spends a lot of effort on returning someone's wallet, and you understand that he is more honest than your friends, this is a transition from N / N to Y / N.


The transition from N / B to N / N is more interesting, causing malicious rejoicing and helping to explain why humiliation and bringing them down to N / N status is usually associated with the persecution of the N / B groups. At the time of the Cultural Revolution in China, representatives of rejected elites were first dressed in clown caps, and then sent to labor camps. The Nazis got rid of mentally ill people who already belonged to the N / N category, simply by killing them; in contrast, before the death, the treatment of Jews (H / B) included wearing yellow armbands, cutting off beards, rubbing the sidewalks with toothbrushes in front of mocking crowds. When Idi Amin ousted tens of thousands of Indo-Pakistani citizens (N / B) from Uganda in the 1970s, he first gave his army the opportunity to rob, beat and rape them. The most barbarous cases of human behavior are related to the transfer of aliens from the category N / B to the category N / N.

Difficulties with the division of others into categories is complete. There is the phenomenon of grumbling respect, even camaraderie with the enemy. An apocryphal example would be the aces of the First World War, where between people trying to kill each other, a “own” spark jumps. "Oh, monsieur, at another time I would love to discuss aeronautics with you over a bottle of good wine." "Baron, it is a great honor for me that it is you who will bring me down." And then there are difficulties with the separation of economic and cultural enemies, new and old, distant foreign and local living in the neighborhood. Ho Chi Minh [First President of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam - approx. transl.] during the American hostilities in Vietnam rejected the help of the Chinese, arguing: "The Americans will leave in a year or ten, and the Chinese, if they are allowed, will remain for a thousand years."

There is also an amazing and strange phenomenon when a member of an alien group brings with it negative stereotypes associated with his group and prefers members of your group. It was demonstrated by psychologists Kenneth and Mami Clark in their “study with puppets”, conducted in the 1940s. Then black children, like white ones, preferred to play with white dolls, rather than black ones, and gave white more positive characteristics. In the trial of Brown v. Ministry of Education, it was mentioned that this effect is most pronounced in black children in segregated schools. Or consider the case of a man who is sharply protesting against gay rights, who turns out to be a hidden homosexual - Mobius list in the world of pathologies, denoting the realization that you belong to a clan of terrible aliens. We are far ahead of even such complex manifestations of the monkey psyche, as the connection of alien monkeys with spiders, when we indulge our psychological whims associated with the division of the world into our own and others.

Variety of its

We also recognize that other people belong to different categories, and change the ideas about which of them have the most value. It is not surprising that most of these thoughts are related to race, and we are trying to understand whether such a division into categories prevails over the rest.

The superiority of the race has the appeal of popular wisdom. Firstly, race is a biological attribute, a striking identity, provoking reasoning in the spirit of essentialism. Moreover, people have evolved in conditions in which a different skin color clearly indicates belonging to strangers. And further, in a large percentage of cultures, prior to contact with Western civilization, there was a status division according to skin color.

However, the evidence suggests otherwise. First, although there are obvious biological moments in the differences of races, race is a biological continuum, not a clear category. For example, unless you specifically select your data, the genetic variations within the race will usually be as strong as the differences between the races. And this is not surprising if you think about the diversity within the racial category - compare, say, the Sicilians and the Swedes.

In addition, race cannot cope with the role of a fixed classification. At different times in US history, Mexicans and Armenians were considered races; southern Italians and northern Europeans were classified differently; a man with one black great-grandfather and seven white was considered white in Oregon, but not in Florida. Such a race is a product of culture.

It is not surprising that the racial dichotomy of one’s own / alien often recedes before other classifications. In one study, subjects looked at images of people, white or black, associated with statements, and then they needed to recall which race was associated with which statement. Racial categorization was automatic — if the subject was confused with the quotation affiliation, then the right and wrong people most likely belonged to the same race. Then half of the blacks and whites in the images were wearing the same noticeable yellow shirt, the other half were wearing gray. Now the subjects most often confused statements according to the color of the shirt. Also, sexual reclassification suppresses unconscious racial categorization. After all, races in the history of hominids appeared relatively recently (perhaps only a few tens of thousands of years ago),and all of our ancestors, almost right down to the ciliates, belonged to different sexes differently.

An important study by Mary Wheeler, who studied the amygdala activation by images of people of a different race, showed how the categorization is changing. When the subjects were asked to look at the point that is visible on each image, the faces of the other races did not activate the amygdala. The second group was to assess how much the faces in the images are older than a certain age, and in this experiment the amygdala was activated. The third group before the photo of the person was shown an image of a vegetable, and offered to evaluate whether a person likes this vegetable. As a result, the amygdala remained at rest.

Why?You look at other people and think about what kind of food they like. Can you imagine how they shop or order food in restaurants? At best, you decide that you share with them the attachment to vegetables - there will be a slight convergence of their own and others. At worst, you decide that you are different from a fairly peaceful alien — there are hardly any examples in the history of spilled blood because of the feud between broccoli and cauliflower. The most important thing is that when you present a stranger at dinner, enjoying a meal, you think of him as a person - this is the best way to ease the automatic categorization of your / someone else's.

Rapid categorization can occur in the most tough, unlikely and acute situations:

There are many dichotomies in our minds, and those that seem inevitable and critical can disappear in the right circumstances in the right circumstances.

Reducing the impact of the division on your / someone else's

How can we get rid of these dichotomies? There are options.

Contact. Prolonged contact with strangers can affect the work of categorizing your / someone else. In the 1950s, psychologist Gordon Allport proposed a "contact theory". Its wrong option: bring your own and others together (say, teenagers from two warring nations in the summer camp), and then the hostility will disappear, and the similarity will begin to prevail, and everyone will turn into "their". A better option: bring your friends and foes together in specific conditions and either something like this will happen or the situation will explode and only get worse.

An example of effective concrete conditions: the parties roughly coincide in number, all are treated equally and unambiguously, contact lasts a long time and on neutral territory, there are meaningful tasks that everyone works together (say, turning a meadow into a football field).

And even then the effect is usually limited - their own and others quickly lose touch, the changes are short-lived and sometimes it turns out that "I hate these strangers, but one of them whom I met last summer is basically a normal guy." A fundamental change in relationships occurs with really long contacts. Then there is progress.

Approach to the subconscious. If you want to reduce the impact of unconscious categorization of your / someone else's, one of the ways is to provide a counterexample to the stereotype (for example, everyone's favorite star from someone else's camp). Another approach is to make the hidden explicit; point people to their cognitive distortions. Another powerful tool is a conversation from a different angle. Imagine that you are them, and tell us why you are unhappy. What do you feel? Do you feel hurt by spending some time in their place?

Substitution of essentialism with individuation. In one study, white subjects were asked how they relate to racial differences. Half of them were initially inclined to essentialism, declaring that "scientists have found genetic evidence for the difference in races." The other half learned that "scientists have found that racial differences have no genetic basis." And the members of the second half expressed less agreement with the inequality of the races.

Reduced hierarchy. The overly developed hierarchies reinforce their / alien differences, for those who are above justify their status by slandering the lower ones, while the latter view the ruling class with a low heat / high competency ratio. For example, there is a cultural trail.says that poor people are more careless, they are closer to real life and are able to enjoy its simple pleasures, and the rich are unhappy, are stressed and are under the pressure of responsibility. Similarly, the myth “they are poor, but they are full of love” refers the poor to the classification of high warmth / low competence. In one study of 37 countries, it became clear that the larger the gap between the incomes of the rich and the poor, the stronger the rich support this viewpoint.


From excessive barbarism to minor annoyances delivered by microagression, the division into friends and foes leads to a large number of unpleasant consequences. But I do not think that the goal should be to “cure” the habit of dividing people into categories of one’s own / someone else’s (not to mention that it is impossible with the presence of an amygdala).

I myself am inclined to loneliness - I spent a lot of time living in a tent in Africa, studying a different look. But my most happy moments are connected with the feeling that I am among my own people, that they accept me, that I am safe and not alone, that I am part of something larger and that surrounds me, the feeling that I am on the right side and that I have all is well. For some of the divisions, my / someone else's self - abstruse, meek, amorphous pacifist - is ready to kill and die.

If we accept, as a given, that different parties will always be, it is very difficult to be on the side of the "good." Do not trust essentialism. Remember that rationality is often only rationalization, an attempt to catch up with subconscious forces, the existence of which we do not suspect. Focus on common goals. Practice the view from the side. Engage in individuation. And to remember how often in the history of the really malicious others hid and substituted a certain third party.

In the meantime, give way to people on whose cars the sticker “rude - sucks” flaunts and remind everyone that in this fight we are on one side of the barricades, against Lord Voldemort and the faculty of Slytherin.

Source: https://habr.com/ru/post/406149/

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