Humans instinctively born with fear of snakes, spiders

If you're afraid of spiders or snakes, this new study may help explain why

If you're afraid of spiders or snakes, this new study may help explain why

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.

It is estimated that the United Kingdom alone there are over 10 million people living with phobias, and ophidiophobia (fear of snakes) and arachnophobia (fear of spiders) always top the list of the most common concerns, according to a YouGov survey.

This fear can even develop into anxiety which limits a person's daily life.

The study, which was published in the Frontiers in Psychology journal on October 18, states that snake and spider phobias affect between one and five per cent of the population.

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.

"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 Stefanie Hoehl, lead investigator of the underlying study and neuroscientist at MPI CBS and the University of Vienna. Such studies with children only tested whether they spot spiders and snakes faster than harmless animals or objects, not whether they show a direct physiological fear reaction. "Accordingly, even the youngest babies seem to be stressed by these groups of animals", Hoehl said.

Previous studies into the development of phobias only looked at older children or adults, making it hard to tell when they had first picked up this reaction.

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 risky threats. When this accompanies further factors it can develop into a real fear or even phobia, researchers said.

"This obviously inherited stress reaction in turn predisposes us to learn these animals as unsafe or disgusting".

Some of these include a genetic disposition to hyperactive amygdala (which the study says is important for estimating hazards) or if parents demonstrate a particular fear of these animals.

The team also highlighted that it is interesting how babies do not seem to associate pictures of rhinos, bears or other theoretically risky animals with fear.

For modern risks such as knives, syringes or sockets, presumably the same is true. The reaction which is induced by animal groups feared from birth could have been embedded in the brain for an evolutionarily long time.

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