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The Motives Behind Hate Crime

October 23, 2013

Every so often a story of hate crime takes over the headlines of the newspapers (whether it be an attack on race, sexual preference or religion) and shocks us all. Most of us (thankfully) can not understand or comprehend the hate and anger that must lead up to such an attack. Hate crimes have been described as a criminal act against a person on the basis that the victim is different or in a different labelled group from the perpetrator; Kurtz, Turpin, 1999. Smith et al (2012) reported an unfathomable 260,000 incidents of hate crime a year in both 2009 and 2010 in England and Wales. Research is carried out into the motivations of hate crime as a means to discourage future possible perpetrators from participating in hate crime focused attacks. Research carried out in the recent past has discovered motivations behind hate crime can be attributed too innate and learnt motives in addition to external motives.


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It seems that separating people into groups such as race and gender and distinguishing our selves either with them or not with them is innate, (Fiske 1993, Nelson, 2002). Research undertaken by Duckett (1992) implied that this was not by hate, but simply a system of ordering a complicated world into understandable schemas: a quick way of processing information. However, this could form the basis of discrimination and racism.

Yearning to be part of a group is innate: being part of a group may increase your chance of survival (for protection) and so enable you to pass on your genes, Byrne and Whiten, 1989. To become part of a group you must adopt the groups’ ideologies (Katz, 2006). This could range from wearing designer clothes to fit with an ‘in group’ to the extremist- adopting racist ideas which could lead to the participation of hate crimes.

This reason for hate crime could also be attributed to external motives. The need to gain praise and social acceptance is an example of an external motive. If a particular group holds racists views, a person may need to be seen as having these racist beliefs in order to become part of the group. To gain praise from the group or even respect and acceptance, a person may commit a hate crime if this is the held belief of their peers they are trying to initiate praise from. In this way a person who holds no racists beliefs could commit a hate crime, Levine and McDevitt (1993).

Another motive and perhaps the most accepted and common for the occurrence of hate crime is the learnt motive; nurture. If a child is brought up around racism and racist views then they will be more likely to adopt these racist views as an adult. Culture and society can have a huge impact on the views and opinions of children and young adults. Typologies of families and adults who commit race hate crimes and who are known to be racist were constructed by researchers. It found that children brought up in abusive and threatening families will go on to be abusive and threatening to others including becoming perpetrators of hate crime as they are adults and are more often than not, were low achievers (Sibbit, 1977). This research suggests that motivations behind hate crime can be attributed largely to upbringing.

However, is has been shown through real life scenarios and cases that some children brought up in these types of families grow up to be different and do not participate in hate crime. Because of this, future research into the motives behind hate crime could be leaned towards an idiographic approach as opposed to a nomothetic approach, which is mainly used. Looking into individual differences and what makes people different could be more useful than grouping hate crime offenders together for research. From this, research could find out more than just what motivates hate crime but also what stops people from participating in hate crime which could be used to curb possible perpetrators away from offending in the future.



Byrne, R, Whiten, A. (1989). Machiavellian Intelligence : Social Expertise and the  Evolution of Intellect in Monkeys, Apes, and Humans. New York: Oxford publications. p19-36.

Duckitt, J. (1992). Psychology and prejudice: A historical analysis and integrative framework. American Psychologist, 47(1), p1182–1193.

Fiske, S, T. (1993). Social cognition and social perception. Annual Review of Psychology, 44, 155–194

Katz, D. (2006). The motivational basis of organizational behavior. Systems Research and Behavioural Science. 9(2), p131-146. DOI: 10.1002/bs.3830090206

Kleg, M. (1993) Hate Prejudice and racism. Albany: state university. NY press

Kurtz, L; Turpin, J. Encyclopedia of Violence Peace and Conflict 1999. p89 v2 Academic press

Levine, J, McDevitt, J. (1993). Hate Crime: The Rising Tide of bigotry and bloodshed. New York: plenum

Nelson, T. D. (2002). The psychology of prejudice. Boston: Allyn and Bacon

Sibbitt, R. (1997). The perpetrators of racial harassment and racial violence, Home Office Research Study 176. London: Home Office.

Zatz, S, M. Smith, H . (2012). Immigration, Crime, and Victimization: Rhetoric and Reality. Annual Review of Law and Social Science. 8 (2), p141-159


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  1. I have to disagree with you that the hate crimes are conducted because of the opposite group membership. It has been reported that most of the crimes does not involve group actions and therefore hate crime motives should not focus on a conflict between groups (Sun, 2005). Although the difference btw offender and victim is necessary for a hate crime to occur, opposite group membership explanation is not sufficient (Nolan, McDevit, Cronin & Firelli, 2004). For example what are motives behind individual’s actions with the same beliefs as the group but are not the members of that group. Therefore the group membership theory ignores offenders’ individual and situational characteristics and does not provide a reliable explanation of motivation within the group. The theory only accounts for membership, social reward and pressure but does not focus on individual mental state (Sun, 2005). Psychology monographs results revealed that offender’s main mental symptoms of hate crime survivors is self-blame (Herek, Gillis, & Cogan, 1999). Therefore there are other factors that motivate offenders. Furthermore lots of hate crimes are committed because of acquired stereotypes about another group (Van de Ven, 1995). Many people in community may share same stereotypes but not commit hate crimes. Therefore what drives these individuals to go out of their community membership and commit crime? To conclude hate crimes are more complex that one could think. Single explanation is not good enough to fully explain the motives of hate offenders.

  2. McDevitt, Levin and Bennett (2002) identified 4 motivational categories that hate crime offenders typify: to thrill, for self-defence, in retaliation to their in-group and for a mission. Apart from thrill offenders, the hatred within an individual is an important factor for committing a hate crime. The U.S. Department of Justice (2013) recorded hate crime victims between 2003-2011 and reported that 65% of victims were White, 15% were Hispanic and 13% were African-Americans. Cox, Abramson, Devine and Hollon (2012) reported that being the victim of a hate crime can cause depression, but victims are not necessarily the only ones that can be affected. The target group (that the victim belonged to) as well as other vulnerable groups can all experience psychological effects.

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