How is a fear of spiders so common, why are so many people afraid of them? There are many ideas of where this fear comes from, some of them based on experiences and even some based on genetics. A person’s arachnophobia can be from a direct negative experience with a spider, but a lot of the time it could stem from something a lot less practical. Ideas for other reasons a person could be afraid of spiders are evolution, cultural background, or learning to hate them from someone else. Most people have probably never been bit by a spider before, so there has to be some merit to other causes of arachnophobia besides being conditioned to not like spiders from experience.
“In 1991, Graham Davey at City University London ran a study to understand more about this view. He interviewed 118 undergraduate students about their fears of spiders. About 75% of the people sampled were either mildly or severely afraid of spiders. Of those most were female” (Dean 2013).
Different studies produce different results, another UK study on 261 adults said that “nearly 32% of women and 18% of men in the group felt anxious, nervous, or extremely frightened when confronted with a spider” (Dean 2013). These numbers of how many people have arachnophobia vary from study to study and it greatly depends on how it is defined. It makes a difference if the study only considers people who are terrified of spiders as having arachnophobia or if it also includes people that dislike spiders or find them creepy. Let’s look further into other causes of arachnophobia.
“There was also an effect from family. Those people fearful of spiders reported having a family member with similar fears, but the study was unable to separate genetic factors from environmental ones. What is surprising is that Davey found that archanophobia wasn’t the result of specific “spider trauma”, which means there was no support for the conditioning view” (Dean 2013). This is an idea that being afraid of spiders could be learned from other people, if a parent or friend is scared of spiders and would freak out when seeing one, this behavior could be picked up by the kid and seen as a normal response.
“So what makes spiders so terrifying? Surely it must be the threat of being bitten? Davey looked at that issue too. It turns out that it is not so much a fear of being bitten, but rather the seemingly erratic movements of spiders, and their “legginess,” Davey said.” (Dean 2013)
I find it very interesting that a big explanation for the fear of spiders that is so common could just be because they have two more legs than insects and they move around weird. Another theory is that spiders used to be more dangerous to humans in ancient times. “One prominent theory states that early on in human evolution, spiders posed a threat, so we’ve developed a sort of hair-trigger reaction to them” (Dean 2013). This idea is backed up by the claim that, “You can see this in children as young as three. When they are shown pictures of either spiders or cockroaches, the children are much quicker to spot the spiders. This is unusual since cockroaches are also unattractive creepy-crawlies” (Dean 2013). There’s no numbers to back this up, but it’s an interesting claim. But, why isn’t everyone afraid of spiders then? Could some humans have an innate fear of spiders while others do not?
Cultural background is an interesting idea to consider, “In some parts of the world, the general population is unafraid of spiders, and in some cultures they are a delicacy. In the UK, spiders are often featured in horror films and they are culturally seen as not very nice creatures that are just household nuisances. This could explain, to some extent, why people can become scared of spiders” (Brown). “The fear of spiders can be a family or cultural trait: many people in Africa are known to fear large spiders whereas in South Africa, where they eat spiders, most are unafraid” (Fear-of).
It seems likely that in any society, people are not afraid of any animals that they eat, maybe the solution is to start eating spiders in the United States? Probably not, but it would probably give people a conquering kind of feeling over spiders.
There is probably some truth to all of these factors for why so many people are afraid of spiders, even just seeing a picture of one is enough to freak some people out. Portraying them as evil in movies or creepy with Halloween decorations I’m sure does not help with arachnophobia, and these kinds of things may make them scarier to people than they otherwise would be.
Symptoms that can arise from arachnophobia can be quite serious if someone is deathly afraid of spiders, someone just shouting the word “SPIDER!” could lead this kind of person to experience rapid heart rate, dizziness, chest pain, and feeling of choking.
What most people probably don’t know is that arachnophobia can be cured! I’m sure the majority of people don’t need to seek treatment for this but for the few that have extreme arachnophobia, meeting with a counselor to slowly get over your fear could be extremely beneficial! If you are afraid of spiders just know that only about a dozen spiders in the world are dangerous to humans, most of which are not found in the United States (Overton 2007).