Interview with Professor Gerald Hüther (1): Hate-Speech

Cover photo Vivian Haddad/ Interview Susanne Gold

Prof. Hüther, Foto by Michael Liebert

Professor Gerald Hüther is a neurobiologist and is one of the best-known brain researchers in the German-speaking world. He is the author of numerous (popular) scientific publications and chairman of the Academy for Potential Development.

Basically, people are programmed to solve problems. Why do people – especially in the digital world – tend to solve problems with aggression and blame?

Hüther: Every crisis we experience means that something has happened for which we still have no solution. Such situations create a certain confusion in the brain, which is scientifically called “incoherence”.

This confusion takes place mainly in the frontal brain, in the prefrontal cortex, and then spreads to deeper areas. The confusion can be felt as anxiety throughout the body. This is a very unpleasant feeling and as a result people look for a way to stop this feeling.

Anyone who feels such unspecific fear has to react. There are two possibilities: On the one hand you can lean on someone who tells you what to do. The result is that you carry out orders that are given – until your own head is completely turned off and only what is given by the authority is done.

Another possibility is not to believe and not to do what is given. In this case the instance is labelled as incompetent and untrustworthy. Uncertainty remains in the brain and then follows that strange phenomenon of the human brain, that the uncertainty disappears when a guilty party is found.

An enemy responsible for the misery is created. An archaic emergency program follows, which is activated from the brain stem. Man reacts to this with attack – he fights the (supposed) enemy.

But why does this happen so intensively in the social media?

Hüther: The social media literally invite people to make themselves the yardstick for expressing their own opinions, because you can spread all kinds of information via digital media without having to fear any feedback, not even in the facial expressions and gestures of your counterpart.

The moment I sit across from a person and tell them that they are guilty of something, that they are stupid or insult them in some other way, I see a reaction. This reaction shows me when I have overshot the mark.

My counterpart reacts physically, maybe starts to cry. This is the social brake that prevents us from rashly exposing our own prejudices to others. This kind of feedback mechanism is completely absent in digital media.

There, anyone can say anything and need not give a damn how the other person feels about it. This means that the most important prerequisite for an exchange and for fruitful communication is no longer given. In addition, in social media one does not feel alone with one’s opinions because one can ally oneself with others who make the same accusations.

This is how the sometimes strange force that we call “bubble”, a bubble of like-minded people, emerges. Then it almost always becomes dangerous. An individual can get very lost with his actions, but when a whole group of people with their actions, their patterns of thinking, feeling and acting get together and the whole thing drifts off in a strangely erratic direction, then it becomes really dangerous.

To be continued..


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