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Updated 30 June 2014

Why does Luis Suarez bite his opponents?

A look into the psychology behind human to human biting. Should we feel sorry for Suarez?

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By now, the entire soccer-watching world has heard about Luis Suarez. Comparable to Mike Tyson’s ear biting incident in 1997, Suarez’s tendency to bite his opponents has become quite notorious amongst soccer fans. This week’s match against Italy marks his third biting offense in professional soccer.

People are outraged, and rightly so, but few are asking why he did it. Why did Suarez choose to bite Giorgio Chiellini? Surely if he was frustrated he would be more likely to push, kick or punch his victim?

Despite the significant fuss around the incident, human to human biting isn’t actually that uncommon. According to study done in 2007 by the National Institutes of Health, human bites are the third most common type of bites seen in emergency rooms, right behind cat and dog bites.


Read: Luis Suarez takes a bite into italy

Many researchers believe that human biting is a primitive response, where emotions override rational thoughts. The theory is that anger overcame Suarez and biting was his way to release his aggression.

“I don’t think [Suarez is] choosing to bite. I mean why does your infant bite the cat? It’s a very infantile response; I don’t think it’s an intellectual choice,” says Health24’s resident Psychiatrist Professor Michael Simpson.

“[He probably has] very little, if anything, [going on in his mind] beforehand and during.” He added. "It's a very primal response."

Read: Human and animal bites

Criminologists have even nodded at the idea that certain human bites are not done out of aggression, but out of a barbarous desire to stigmatize their victims. 

Of further interest is the footballer's lack of remorse following the attack. He felt no need to apologise to Chiellini and has generally dismissed the incident as unimportant. The head of the Uruguayan Football Association claimed that the bite marks were photoshopped onto Chiellini by the media.

If Luis Suarez had attempted to bite someone in South Africa, he would have had to face up to a six month jail time, as human biting is categorized as a “peculiar form of assault.” 

While human biting may seem like a small matter, 5 to 20 percent of all biting cases are a result from human biting. Additionally, human bites are often much harder to treat than animal bites, as the human mouth can carry up to 100 million organisms per millimetre, representing almost 200 different species of bacteria.

Due to these high levels of bacteria, human bites that break the skin have a high risk of infection. Furthermore, Hepatitis B and C, HIV, herpes and rabies can all be passed via a human bite.

Read more: 

Rabies, dog and people
Break your bad habit
Dog bite infection: get help immediately

Sources: Vice, Smithsonian and iOL

 
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