Why Are People Afraid Of Spiders? (Arachnophobia)


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 disease-ridden stuff. Scientists say there might be a way to reduce our fear by exposing our brains to it over and over. Fear of snakes and spiders ranked amongst the top five phobias of American adults.

Some might even argue that this fear is wired into us. No, it turns out that a fear of snakes and spiders is something humans might be born with. 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.

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 incident involving a spider can cause arachnophobia. It affects 40% of the population, two out of ten males in 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 from a very early age, people learn not to fear these creatures. But a traumatic experience can also develop into a 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 developed 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 the 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 while sitting on their parent’s lap and showed them pictures on-screen pictures like flowers or fish. Then in a separate experiment, the pictures were changed to spiders and snakes.

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 suggests that it evolved in our common 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 for it. 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 is available for this condition, including meditation, relaxation techniques, and exposure therapy. Some treatments include exposure therapy, which involves gradual, 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. In 10% of cases, it kills off skin tissue 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.

More Articles:


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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