Why does someone bite

Psychology: When people bite like animals

Why did the football player Luis Suárez's bite seem so terrifying? Because we humans typically use our fists instead of our jaws when fighting.

It's a normal movement, things like that happen on the pitch, ”said Uruguayan striker Luis Suárez, commenting on his bite on the shoulder of his Italian opponent Giorgio Chiellini. Naturally, he was not so relaxed about it and reacted horrified - much more horrified than he would have reacted to a violent kick or punch.

Where this horror comes from, Oliver Kahn expressed as a commentator on ZDF most clearly: “This is behavior that is otherwise only known from animals.” Kahn, when he was still a goalkeeper at FC Bayern Munich, was once under suspicion himself that he had bitten an opponent, namely Heiko Herrlich from Borussia Dortmund. However, this appeased: "Kahn didn't bite me, just nibbled, in any case I didn't have a hole in my throat."

In fact, what sets humans apart from other animals is that they rarely bite when fighting. This was recently stated by the US biologist David R. Carrier in “Biological Reviews” (June 9th). Carrier, who sees himself as a peace researcher, does not believe that humans are particularly peaceful beings, on the contrary: He calls us the "most violent vertebrates on our planet". It is typical for us, however, that we exercise this violence with our fists: only we can clench our hands into fists - and use them to hit others, preferably the face. According to Carrier, this has also changed the face of our ancestors in the course of our evolution: It has become more robust precisely where blows threaten the bones most: the lower jaw, nose, eye socket.

This “protective reinforcement of the human face”, as Carrier calls it, is more pronounced in men than in women: our male ancestors fought with their fists for this - and for territories. (And later with guns, which made the faces softer again.) Not with teeth and not with fingernails. It may be that the stereotype that girls are more likely to scratch when fighting, unlike boys, is due to this ancient gender difference.

In any case, biting is considered primitive, animal, archaic, a throwback to a time when we were even more apes than humans, walking on all fours and sniffing. This is one of the reasons why rabies is considered such a horrific disease: because it turns people into foamy, biting animals. Experiences with rabid people have probably also inspired the horror characters of werewolves and vampires. The fact that in the highly popular novel and film "Twilight" a teenage girl has to find out that a lover is a vampire can be casually interpreted as follows: Sexuality often has something scary and animal about it, especially for adolescents. The love bite is also a sign of particular unrestrainedness.

Freudians see the tendency to bite as an individual relapse into an earlier phase of life: into the oral-sadistic phase (6th to 12th month of life), which is dominated by the pleasure of biting and chewing - instead of the pleasure of sucking and sucking, which rules the early oral phase.

We don't bite animals dead

Even the strictest Freudian will admit that both lusts, at least when it comes to eating and drinking, still play a major role in adults. Those who are not vegetarian like to bite into animal meat. But only if the animal is already dead (and possibly cooked): The idea of ​​killing an animal with a bite is unbearable for most people - even those who are willing to kill it with their hands. This also shows how largely our mouth area has given up its function as a weapon.

In the debate about Suárez, there was often talk of “bite resistance”, which he lacked. Konrad Lorenz coined the word for wolves and dogs - and was wrong. His thesis that the inferior wolf deliberately presents its weakest point to the superior and thus arouses a bite inhibition in this one, was wrong. That is what the Lorenz student Erik Zimen found out. And he complained that the idea that with dogs the winner simply cannot kill the loser is still widespread among dog experts - “and often with a moral undertone about how useful nature is and how terrible humans are. . . "

("Die Presse", print edition, June 27, 2014)