I’m scared of spiders. Not afraid to admit it. I like pictures of them, but not a fan of the 3-D version. When I was 17, I got bitten by one of these, and since then my policy is strictly arachNOPE. Keep at least three feet between me and any spider, and if I walk through a web I’ll be like [SCREAMING] Yet out of 50,000 or so known spider species, only a couple dozen have venom that could hurt me. I’m a rational guy, but I’ve got a case of irrational fear. I’m not alone. According to the American Psychiatric Association, 40% of phobias have to do with things like insects, snakes, and mice, and … spiders.
Some of us don’t care for those eight-legged terrors thanks to a phenomenon called conditioning. Not the kind that has to do with soft, silky hair, but because of a past traumatic experience that… ugh. Studies show that many people don’t even have to have encountered a spider before being afraid of them, and that arachnid aversion is heritable, so there might be genetics at play. And even if they don’t fear them, children are able to pick out images of spiders and snakes faster than images of non-threatening animals, like bunnies. We must have evolved some sort of built-in creepy-crawly detection system for strange slithery movements or a few too many legs, a spidey sense for spideys. That’s just the kind of thing that might have kept our ancestors safe from possibly deadly encounters.
Or just kept them from walking through spider webs and looking like idiots. And then, there’s roaches. Slimy, stinky, speedy little drawer demons. I like to consider myself a tough guy, but some of these things have wings, man! That’s just not fair! [SCREAMING] The jittery way they sprint across the wall is the same kind of non-standard movement that triggers our creepiness alarm. And their slimy, stinky nature triggers our disgust response. That’s the instinct that drives us away from things like spoiled food, vomit, or feces, and other disease-ridden stuff.
But again, some of our roach fear might be due to conditioning, seeing our parents jump at the sight of them at a young age, when our brains are soaking up cues from other people on how to interpret the world. [SCARY MUSIC] [SCREAMING] But spiders and roaches aren’t going anywhere, and we know they are here to stay, so we’d better get used to them. Luckily, scientists say there might be a way to reduce our fear by exposing our brains to it over and over. Happy Halloween! Where is it? Get it off!