Why do we fear snakes?

February 29th, 2008 - 12:26 am ICT by admin  

Washington, Feb 28 (IANS) Myths surrounding snakes as a mischievous seducer, dangerous foe or a powerful iconoclast may not be based solely on fantasy. Ancestors of modern man were extraordinarily capable of detecting and deterring the threat of a poisonous snake. That identification has become intrinsic.

Psychologists Vanessa LoBue and Judy DeLoache of the University of Virginia demonstrated this phenomenon by examining the ability of adults and children to pinpoint snakes among other non-threatening objects in pictures.

“We wanted to know whether pre-school children, who have much less experience with natural threats than adults, would detect the presence of snakes as quickly as their parents,” LoBue explained.

Pre-school children and their parents were shown nine colour pictures on a computer screen and were asked to find either the single snake among eight flowers, frogs or caterpillars, or the single non-threatening item among eight snakes.

Parents and their children identified snakes more rapidly than they detected the other stimuli, despite the gap in age and experience.

The results will appear in the March issue of Psychological Science, of the Association for Psychological Science. It may provide the first evidence of an adapted, visually stimulated fear mechanism in humans.

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