Are Humans Predisposed to Fear Snakes?

The Human Evolution Blog

assault snake

Some animals are genetically programmed to fear their predators. Mice naturally fear cats; fish naturally fear birds. But what about humans? Are we naturally disposed to fear certain dangerous animals?

It is certainly true that some things are feared more commonly than others, such as snakes, spiders, and rats, but this could be the result of conditioning, more than programming. Perhaps we learn to fear snakes and spiders because they bite and we fear rats because we were taught that they spread plague and pestilence.

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Or maybe not. Scientists studying fear conditioning have noticed that it is easier to train humans to fear snakes and spiders than things like friendly dogs and fluffy pillows. This is especially true for children, and indeed, some very young children are afraid of these animals before ever having encountered them or heard about them.

Thus, there appears to be a preconditioned human tendency to fear snakes and…

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