Humanity's fear of spiders and snakes is genetic, study reports

A group of researchers have found an evolutionary explanation for why humans are scared of spiders and snakes.
By Harry Marcolis | Oct 24, 2017
Humans have an innate fear of dangerous animals -- such as spiders and snakes -- according to a new study in Frontiers In Psychology.

This research comes from a group of scientists from numerous European universities who found that spiders trigger a stress reaction in children as young as 6-months-old. That is important because most infants at that age cannot tell the difference between dangerous and safe objects. However, spiders and snakes triggered a definite emotional response.

Most researchers believe fear stems from social cues that develop at a young age. However, infants who have not been exposed to the world tell a different story.

"When we showed pictures of a snake or a spider to the babies instead of a flower or a fish of the same size and colour, they reacted with significantly bigger pupils," said lead author Stefanie Hoehl, a researcher at the University of Vienna, in a statement.

In addition, researchers also noted German citizens, despite having only two poisonous snakes and no deadly spiders in their country, are scared of snakes and spiders. As a result, it is likely the fear is inherent rather than learned. The team in the study believes that adaptation is similar to how primates have an evolutionary response to dangerous animals.

While researchers are not sure, they believe the fear looked at in the study originates in parents and then is passed down through generations. Nobody likes to be scared, but being able to recognize dangerous objects helps people better recognize and avoid dangerous hazards.

"We assume that the reason for this particular reaction upon seeing spiders and snakes is due to the coexistence of these potentially dangerous animals with humans and their ancestors for more than 40 to 60 million years and therefore much longer than with today's dangerous mammals," added Hoehl, according to International Business Times.

This evolutionary adaptation can also be applied to man-made items as well. Objects like knives or syringes can lead to inherent fear because, after generations of injury, a response can be built into the brain.

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