Why Are People Afraid Of Spiders? (Arachnophobia)


Hello, brave souls and curious minds! Have you ever felt a shiver down your spine at the sight of a spider, or perhaps found yourself fascinated yet fearful of these eight-legged creatures? If so, you’re not alone. Arachnophobia, or the fear of spiders, is one of the most common phobias around the globe. But what is it about spiders that evokes such a strong reaction, and why do so many of us experience this fear?

There are about 50,000 known spider species, and only a couple dozen have venom that could hurt. According to the American Psychiatric Association, 40% of phobias involve insects, snakes, mice, and spiders. Studies show that many people don’t even have to have encountered a spider before being afraid of them. That arachnid aversion is heritable, so there might be genetics at play. Children can pick out images of spiders and snakes faster than images of non-threatening animals, like bunnies.

That instinct drives us away from spoiled food, vomit, feces, and other diseases. Scientists say there might be a way to repeatedly reduce our fear by exposing our brains to it. Fear of snakes and spiders ranked amongst the top five phobias of American adults.

Some even argue that this fear is wired into us. No, it turns out humans might be born with a fear of snakes and spiders. But why? Fears of these animals are so prevalent that they’ve even got their names. Humans, snakes, and spiders have co-evolved for nearly 60 million years.

We’re going to weave our way through the web of arachnophobia, exploring its psychological roots, cultural influences, and the fascinating world of spiders themselves. So, muster your courage and join us on this enlightening journey to understand and perhaps even overcome the fears lurking in our minds. Ready to unravel the mysteries of arachnophobia? Let’s step into the web together!

Why are people afraid of spiders?

The fear of spiders is also called arachnophobia. It is a condition where a person will not continue with something physically or mentally debilitated because a spider is nearby. Arachnophobia comes from the Greek words “arachne,” meaning spider, and “phobos,” meaning fear.

  • See spider.
  • Hear spider.
  • Think about the spider.

It is one of man’s most common phobias, believed to be a primal instinct. Scientists believe fear to be innate, not learned. Studies show a bias in spider detection by adults and, more interestingly, in small children. Yet another study discovered that unborn crickets learn to fear spiders while in their mother’s womb, proving that the fear of spiders can be learned before birth.

However, there is no denying that a traumatic spider incident can cause arachnophobia. It affects 40% of the population, two out of ten males and six out of ten females, to be medically diagnosed with arachnophobia.

There are two main theories on this fear.

  • One is evolution, and the other is culture.

What are some of the symptoms? Arachnophobia can manifest as dizziness, sweating, trembling, chest pain, a feeling of choking, and even nausea. The causes of developing this phobia stem from learning this response from someone else with the phobia. In a country like South Africa, for instance, spiders are eaten. So, people learn not to fear these creatures from a very early age. But a traumatic experience can also develop into a phobia.

The fear of spiders, known as arachnophobia, is one of the most common specific phobias experienced by people. Several factors contribute to why some may develop a fear or feel uneasy around spiders:

Evolutionary Factors: Some theories propose that humans may have an inherent predisposition to fear spiders due to evolutionary factors. Throughout our evolutionary history, spiders and other venomous arthropods posed potential threats to our ancestors. The fear response could have provided a survival advantage by promoting caution and avoiding potentially dangerous creatures.

Cultural and Media Influence: Cultural factors and media portrayal can also contribute to the fear of spiders. Many cultures associate spiders with negativity, danger, or even supernatural beliefs. Additionally, media, such as movies, books, or stories, depict spiders in menacing or frightening roles, perpetuating fear.

Conditioning and Learned Responses: Fear of spiders can develop through personal experiences or learned responses. If someone had a traumatic encounter with a spider or witnessed others expressing fear, it could lead to an association between spiders and fear. Additionally, parental or societal reinforcement of spider phobia during childhood may contribute to its development.

Physical Characteristics: Spiders have unique physical features that can trigger fear responses in some individuals. Their multiple legs, fast movements, and venomous appearance may evoke a sense of danger or disgust. Certain species of spiders also exhibit distinct colors or patterns, which some people find unsettling.

Lack of Control and Predictability: Spiders can appear suddenly and unexpectedly, leading to a sense of surprise or lack of control. The ability of spiders to crawl into small spaces or build webs in homes may heighten the fear response, as people may feel invaded or trapped.

Generalized Fear Response: Some individuals may have a general predisposition to developing phobias, including arachnophobia. Factors such as genetic predispositions, anxiety disorders, or other specific phobias may contribute to the development or intensification of spider phobia.

Evolutionary fear

One theory comes from evolutionary psychologists, who believe that a fear of spiders might have helped our survival. It wasn’t always immediately obvious which spiders were poisonous to our ancestors. It wasn’t only spiders. Research shows that we develop a fear of other animals, like snakes, that we perceive as threatening.

Those who believe evolution is the main driving force believe that humanity’s ancestors evolved in Africa. It would make sense that the deadly spider is native to the continent or what initially caused this. If you react fearfully by running away from a potentially deadly arachnid, you have a higher chance of surviving long enough to breed.

Cultural fear

Another theory believes arachnophobia only exists in specific cultural backgrounds. Spiders are often portrayed as dangerous in books and movies in the United States and the United Kingdom. Culture is one of the main driving forces of arachnophobia. It would be more of a hindrance to survival. It could have been carried out of Africa and kept with much Western civilization simply because it wasn’t a big enough hindrance to losing.

Humans are wired to know that these are potentially dangerous creatures from an evolutionary standpoint. So, being scared of spiders is normal. But is fear irrational? Believe it or not, the answer is yes. Only about 200 out of 40,000 spiders pose a threat. In a year in the United States, only about six people die from spider bites. To put that in perspective, sixty-seven people die yearly from bee stings.

Experiment of Arachnophobia

Humans have an innate fear response to these low gods. Recent studies show that these fears may be hereditary and ingrained in our biology. There’s research to back this up. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Germany and Uppsala University in Sweden ran an experiment.

A study in Germany watched a group of six-month-old babies sitting on their parent’s laps and showed them pictures on-screen like flowers or fish. Then, the pictures were changed to spiders and snakes in a separate experiment.

The scientists closely monitored the infant’s pupils to see if they showed a physical sign of our innate fear response. Those pictures of spiders made the baby’s pupils grow quite a large amount. They showed signs of fear without even knowing what a spider was or what it could do to them.

In a similar study in 2009, Japanese researchers showed monkeys sets of images of spiders and flowers. They rewarded the monkey when it pointed to the oddball object. Also, they consistently pointed to spiders faster than flowers. So why is this? We share this sensitivity with monkeys, suggesting they evolved from our ancestors.

The thinking goes that millions of years ago. In some cases, even today, a venomous bite from a snake or spider would have left our early human ancestors dead. So, some biologists theorized that a hard-wired fear serves as a defense mechanism. In other words, we’ve developed a biological bias to dislike these animals.

How to overcome the fear of spiders?

Let’s talk about how to deal with this fear. It is not only common but something we are programmed with.

  • Firstly, watch videos like spider related and learn all about them. You can read about the spider, and the Spiderman movie is the best choice. Knowledge is always power when it comes to a phobia.
  • Remember some simple facts about spiders that will put their danger in perspective. y
  • Discuss your fear of spiders with your family or even a medical professional.

Therapy for this condition includes meditation, relaxation techniques, and exposure therapy. Some treatments include exposure therapy, which involves repeated exposure to feared things or situations. Others include cognitive behavioral therapy, which involves exposure and techniques. It helps teach a patient to understand their fears better and overcome them.

Only black widows and brown recluse spiders in the United States can harm humans. The black widow is mostly found in the southern United States. It kills off skin tissue in 10% of cases, leading to a nasty lesion. In about 1% of cases, the toxin may lead to kidney failure. Spiders rarely bite and are less provoked. So stay calm.

We’ve explored this common phobia’s psychological, evolutionary, and cultural facets, shedding light on why spiders might trigger such a strong response in many of us. Along the way, we’ve also learned to appreciate the incredible diversity and ecological importance of spiders, those skilled architects of the natural world. This exploration into the heart of arachnophobia reminds us that understanding our fears is the first step towards overcoming them.

We hope this journey has been as enlightening for you as it has been for us and that you carry forward a newfound curiosity and respect for the eight-legged wonders that share our world. Until our next adventure into the realms of the mind and nature, stay curious, stay brave, and remember that sometimes, the things we fear the most are simply misunderstood. Happy exploring, fellow adventurers of the unknown!

More Articles:

Why Are People Scared Of The Darkness?

Why Do We Fear Wrong Things?

The Mechanisms Of Evolution


Sperry, Len. Mental Health and Mental Disorders: An Encyclopedia of Conditions, Treatments, and Well-Being [3 volumes]: An Encyclopedia of Conditions, Treatments, and Well-Being.
Heather Hatfield. “The Fear Factor: Phobias.”
Friedenberg, J.; Silverman. Cognitive Science: An Introduction to the Study of Mind. SAGE. pp. 244–245.
Davey, G.C.L., “The “Disgusting” Spider: The Role of Disease and Illness in the Perpetuation of Fear of Spiders.” Society and Animals.

Julia Rose

My name is Julia Rose. I'm a registered clinical therapist, researcher, and coach. I'm the author of this blog. There are also two authors: Dr. Monica Ciagne, a registered psychologist and motivational coach, and Douglas Jones, a university lecturer & science researcher.I would love to hear your opinion, question, suggestions, please let me know. We will try to help you.

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