Fear of spiders is incredibly common. Most of us avoid them when we can and squash them when we can’t. But why are spiders so much more disturbing than other bugs?
There are a few psychological and scientific theories about why so many people shudder at the sight of anything with eight legs. Here are some reasons why you might be afraid of spiders.
Some researchers think you might be scared of spiders due to something called “spider trauma.”
Can you remember the first time you were ever afraid of a spider? Turns out, that first fright could have had a lasting impact on you.
One study out of the University of Maastricht found that something called “spider trauma” could be at the root of arachnophobia. Spider trauma refers to a scary, spider-related event that conditions an individual to fear arachnids. This traumatic event is often thought to occur during childhood and may even be forgotten by the person, while the fear of spiders persists.
According to researchers, children who were highly fearful of spiders reported more scary experiences with the critters than kids who weren’t as afraid of spiders.
The kids in the study also reported that spiders were their top fear, with kidnapping and predators coming in second and third, respectively.
Fear of spiders could be genetic.
If you asked most people what scares them about household spiders, they probably wouldn’t say it was the fear of a fatal bite. Everyday Health reports that out of the 40,000 species of spiders, only a few are actually dangerous.
So if we know that the vast majority of spiders that may be lurking in our homes and yards are as harmless as ladybugs and goldfish, why does the sight of one still make some people yelp?
A study led by Graham Davey of City University London found that arachnophobia might be a family trait. Out of 118 participants surveyed, 75% reported being afraid of spiders. Those people reported having a family member who was afraid of spiders.
Davey found that there was evidence to support the conclusion that fear of spiders might be genetic, though critics could argue that growing up in a household where others were afraid of spiders might be more likely to make you view the creatures negatively.
The human species could be pre-programmed to be afraid of spiders.
It’s easy to understand how we might grow up to avoid things that scared us as children or that our parents don’t like. But why would we find spiders scary in the first place?
“Animal fears may represent a functionally distinct set of adaptive responses which have been selected for during the evolutionary history of the human species,” Davey asserted in his study.
This means that modern humans might be afraid of certain animals because we’re descended from ancient hominids who feared and avoided potentially dangerous creatures. This fear allowed them to survive and pass on their scaredy-cat genes, while less fearful early humans were killed.
Interestingly, Davey also found that if a participant was afraid of spiders, they were also more likely to be afraid of other commonly feared or disliked animals.
It’s might not actually be the fear of being bitten that makes people hate spiders.
If there’s an evolutionary reason for arachnophobia, surely it’s because our ancestors wanted to avoid being bitten, right?
Maybe not. In his research, Davey describes the “legginess” and erratic movements of spiders as the characteristics that disturb people the most.
We seem to not like the unpredictable way spiders move – their circle of limbs makes it seem like they could dart in any direction – and their disproportionately long legs.
You might be more likely to be afraid of spiders if your ancestors were European.
Historical analysis has revealed that our fear of spiders could be a cultural phenomenon rather than a deep-seated primal reaction.
Arachnophobia is far more common in European countries, where it was once thought that spiders carried diseases like the black plague and tarantism, an illness that allegedly made the sufferer dance uncontrollably.
Spider fear is significantly less common in non-European countries regions like India, Africa, the Caribbean, and amongst the aboriginal cultures of Australia. Many of cultures in these regions consider spiders to be a symbol of good luck or a culinary delicacy.