Why we fear Spiders

Is society’s fear of spiders rational? Our popular belief is that spiders are dangerous; studies show that there are many misconceptions about spiders, such as how 72 percent of elementary school-aged children in a study wrongly believed that a tarantula bite could be fatal. Spiders also cause anxiety to many, even though only a small portion of people scared of spiders have had traumatic experiences with them. The truth is that the majority of arachnids are pretty harmless. So how did we develop such strong phobias against them, and why are some societies more scared of them than others?

One hypothesis, that attempts to explain our fear of spiders, as well as other fears such as snakes, heights and the dark, argues that it originated through evolution. It is called the “hypothesis of biological preparedness,” and was proposed in 1971 by psychologist Martin Seligman. It argues that these were real fears for our ancestors, and that being scared of them could be in our biology in order to help us survive. Support for this evolutionary hypothesis was found in a study that found that South African high school students were more scared of spiders than Slovakian students. The rational is that because South Africa has more poisonous spiders, more people living there should have this fear.

Another hypothesis claims that the fear of spiders stems from society perpetuating the idea that spiders are bad. A researcher named Graham Davey who researched this subject believes that spiders and many other creatures evoke disgust from many, and that this has a cultural basis, not an evolutionary one. He cites how people who fear spiders are also likely to fear harmless non-predators like slugs, snails, and cockroaches. Davey proposed that spiders might have gotten their bad reputation from being associated with disease spread like rats were during the Great Plagues or by being associated with rotten or tainted food. Spiders were even thought to transmit Plague in the Middle Ages; Europeans thought that any food that came in contact with a spider was poisoned.

Interestingly, some cultures have different opinions toward spiders. In parts of Asia and the Caribbean, spiders are seen as tasty treats. Some African cultures regard them as wise creatures and are honored. Therefore, the fear and disgust that many feel towards spiders is not quite universal.

You can overcome your own fear of spiders with a beautiful framed spider you can hang with pride. – Natalie Gilmore