Unlocking the psychology of snake and spider phobias

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Washington, Mar 25 (UNI) Snakes and spiders scare human beings the most and researchers are attempting to unlock this phobia.

Scientists earlier believed that humans possess an evolutionary predisposition to fear the unpopular animals but researchers at University of Queensland, School of Psychology have proved otherwise.

''Previous research shows that we react differently to snakes and spiders than to other stimuli, such as flowers or mushrooms, or even other dangerous animals or cars and guns, which are also much more dangerous,'' Dr Helena Purkis said.

''In the past, this has been explained by saying that people are predisposed by evolution to fear certain things, such as snakes and spiders, that would have been dangerous to our ancestors,'' she added.

''However people tend to be exposed to a lot of negative information regarding snakes and spiders, and we argue this makes them more likely to be associated with phobia,'' she explained.

In the study, researchers compared the responses to stimuli of participants with no particular experience with snakes and spiders, to that of snake and spider experts, Science Daily reported.

The study is the first to establish a clear difference between preferential attention and the accompanying emotional response: that is one can preferentially attend to something without a negative emotional response being elicited.

''The findings could significantly increase understanding about the basic cognitive and emotional processes involved in the acquisition and maintenance of fear,'' Dr Purkis remarked.

''If we understand the relationship between preferential attention and emotion it will help us understand how a stimulus goes from being perceived as potentially dangerous, to eliciting an emotional response and to being associated with phobia,'' she said.


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