Afraid of Spiders and Snakes? It Isn't Uncommon Being a Human

Modesto Morganelli
Ottobre 24, 2017

The study, which was conducted by the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, identified a stress reaction in infants as young as six months old when presented with a spider or a snake, suggesting that we're built from the ground-up to fear them.

It is presumed that in the industrialized nations, like middle Europe, a lot of people never even come across spiders and snakes, yet people shiver at the thought of a spider crawling up their arm. Babies feel the same fear when they see such creatures much before they can learn how to react to the same. You might imagine seeing the creepy critters throughout your life has conditioned you to fear them, but new research has completely blown the doors off of that notion, revealing that humans are afraid of spiders and snakes before they even know what they are. In the developed nations, where the chances of encounter are very low, around five per cent of the population experiences real phobia of snakes and spiders.

Till date, it was not clear where exactly this fears or anxiety comes from.

And the tests with children only tested whether they spot spiders or snakes faster than harmless animals or objects, not whether they show a direct fear reaction. This takes place at an age as young as six months, when they are still immobile and unaware of how risky these animals can be.

In the trial, they showed a group of babies images of spiders and snakes alongside flowers and fish - all the same size and in the same colour.

"We conclude that fear of snakes and spiders is of evolutionary origin".

Instead they argue that this is an evolutionary development, and similar to primates, mechanisms in the human brain have had to develop to react very quickly to these potentially unsafe threats. When this accompanies further factors it can develop into a real fear or even phobia. "A strong panicky aversion exhibited by the parents or a genetic predisposition for a hyperactive amygdala, which is important for estimating hazards, can mean that increased attention towards these creatures becomes an anxiety disorder".

The team also highlighted that it is interesting how babies do not seem to associate pictures of rhinos, bears or other theoretically unsafe animals with fear. "We assume that the reason for this particular reaction upon seeing spiders and snakes is due to the coexistence of these potentially risky animals with humans and their ancestors for more than 40 to 60 million years-and therefore much longer than with today's unsafe mammals". The reaction which is induced by animal groups feared from birth could have been embedded in the brain for an evolutionarily long time. It is presumed that fear of syringes and sockets and knives are also subject to the same. From an evolutionary perspective they have only existed for a short time, and there has been no time to establish reaction mechanisms in the brain from birth.

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