Washington, Feb 28 : The common fear surrounding snakes is more than just legend or fantasy. Researchers have now shown that the fear of the venomous predator is most likely intrinsic, and has been adapted accordingly through the passing ages.
The study, according to the researchers, may provide the first evidence of an adapted, visually stimulated fear mechanism in humans.
Psychologists Vanessa LoBue and Judy DeLoache have shown that early humans adapted the common fear of certain animals, such as spiders and snakes in the same way they survived the dangers of an uncivilized society.
To prove this phenomenon, LoBue and DeLoache examined the ability of adults and children to pinpoint snakes among other nonthreatening objects in pictures.
"We wanted to know whether preschool children, who have much less experience with natural threats than adults, would detect the presence of snakes as quickly as their parents," LoBue explained.
"If there is an evolved tendency in humans for the rapid detection of snakes, it should appear in young children as well as their elders," she added.
Preschool children and their parents were shown nine colour photographs on a computer screen and were asked to find either the single snake among eight flowers, frogs or caterpillars, or the single non-threatening item among eight snakes.
As the study surprisingly shows, parents and their children identified snakes more rapidly than they detected the other stimuli, despite the gap in age and experience.
The study appears in the March 2008 issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.