The long-held viewpoint that humans have an innate sense of fear towards snakes and spiders and other creatures has been contradicted by a recent study.
The journal Current Directions in Psychological Science reports the study done by Arne Ohman at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden and Susan Mineka from Northwestern University, US who observed how infants and small children react to scary objects.
At Rutgers University in Newark, researchers showed seven-month-old babies videos of snakes and of a non-threatening animal while playing recordings of either a scary voice or a happy voice. It was noted that the infants spent more time watching the snake videos while the scary voice was played. It was also noted that they showed no fear themselves.
In another study in Sweden, volunteers were given a small electric shock while being shown different images. All the images began to be associated with fear. In yet another research study three-year-olds could identify pictures of snakes quicker than flowers, whether they had a fear of snakes or not.
All the studies done bring out two important things about fears and phobias. As Dr.Vanessa LoBue of Rutgers University explains, "One is that we detect them quickly. The other is that we learn to be afraid of them really quickly."
Babies detect snakes quickly - and then learn to be afraid of them really quickly, she said. "What we're suggesting is that we have these biases to detect things like snakes and spiders really quickly, and to associate them with things that are yucky or bad, like a fearful voice."