The human brain’s Hate Circuit appears to be uncoupled by depression, researchers from the University of Warwick reported in the journal Molecular Psychiatry. In other words, the brain of many people with depression appears to process hate differently, compared to those without depression.

Professor Jianfeng Feng and team used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to scan activity in the brains of 23 female and 16 male patients with diagnosed clinical depression, and compared their findings to 14 female and 23 male “controls” (people with no depression).

They found that the fMRI scans showed considerable differences in the brain circuitry of depressed individuals and the controls. The uncoupling of the “hate circuitry” involving the superior gyrus, insula and putamen was particularly noticeable, the authors wrote.

Other differences between the two groups included circuits associated with reward and emotion, risk and action responses, attention, and memory processing.

Professor Semir Zeki , of UCL (University College London), first identified the hate circuitry in 2008 – he described it as a circuit which appears to connect three regions in the brain; the superior frontal gyrus, insula and putamen. Part of that research included showing participants pictures of people they said they hated.

In this latest study, the scientists found that for a considerable number of patients with depression that were examined by fMRI, this hate circuitry had become decoupled (separated, disengaged). These depressed individuals had also experienced other brain circuit disruptions, such as those associated with attention and memory processing, reward and emotion, and risk and action.

They found that in the patients with depression that they examined:

  • There was a 92% likelihood their Hate Circuits were decoupled
  • There was a 92% chance their Risk/Action Circuit was decoupled
  • There was an 82% likelihood that their Emotion/Reward Circuit was decoupled

Professor Jianfeng Feng said:

“The results are clear but at first sight are puzzling as we know that depression is often characterized by intense self loathing and there is no obvious indication that depressives are less prone to hate others.

One possibility is that the uncoupling of this hate circuit could be associated with impaired ability to control and learn from social or other situations which provoke feelings of hate towards self or others. This in turn could lead to an inability to deal appropriately with feelings of hate and an increased likelihood of both uncontrolled self-loathing and withdrawal from social interactions.

It may be that this is a neurological indication that is more normal to have occasion to hate others rather than hate ourselves.”

Written by Christian Nordqvist