Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig and the Uppsala University, Sweden, recently did the next best thing. The team showed six-month-old babies photos of safe images, such as flowers and fish, and dangerous images, such as snakes and spiders, and gauged their subconscious reaction via pupil dilation.
This study has found out that its genuine to get afraid of spiders and snakes because it is a part of an innate human ability to detect some danger with its presence.
Right from infants as old as 6 months old show their distress towards snakes and spiders and that’s how its proved that the common phobia is somewhere inbuilt in humans since birth.
However, it is also a fact that we no longer now live with the poisonous 8-legged creature which sometimes is fat and dark. Gone are those days when spiders were termed to be life risky for humans upon their bite.
During the experiment, the babies had their pupillary dilation measured by an infrared eye tracker, which indicates levels of the fight-or-flight chemical norepinephrine, and so can help gauge stress response.
“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”, says neuroscientist Stefanie Hoehl from the Max Planck Institute and the University of Vienna in Austria.
Accordingly, even the youngest babies seem to be stressed by these groups of animals.”
This strong aversion exhibited by humans for spiders and snakes can evolve into a phobia when assisted by other factors, the study states.
The study states that snake and spider phobias affect between one and five per cent of the population. However, the study goes on to say that a third of children and adults claim to strongly dislike spiders and snakes, “even though these animals hardly pose a threat to humans today.
It’s important to note that fear of spiders and snakes is different from a phobia. While general aversion to spiders and snakes may cause an increased heart rate, in the case of true phobias fear of spiders can disrupt an individual’s daily activities and in extreme cases can lead to anxiety and depression.
“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,” explained Hoehl.