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Series of video interviews about Arachnophobia - Teddy Walliker

Our fear of spiders is our own fault and we are too scared to do anything about it.


Millions of people in the UK have arachnophobia. It affects an estimated 32% of women and 18% of men.


It is largely irrational as you are far more likely to kill a spider than it is you. In fact technically speaking, no species of spider can be considered deadly to humans as none have bite fatality rates of higher than 6%.


Comparatively speaking however, every arachnophobe I interviewed was able to correctly answer that bees (a group far more liked in the public eye) are more dangerous than spiders when given the choice. So the danger element isn’t what scares people, what does?


Graham Davey at City University London conducted a study into what aspects of spiders scared people most. His results revealed that the legs, movement and hair were the most common causes of fear.


Why exactly are so many of us scared of spiders? Broadly speaking there are three explanations:



Impressionable at a young age?

Psychologists believe that a main reason for arachnophobia is direct experiences at a young age, this is known as “conditioning”. A related event caused the fear and they may have been too young to recall it.


A study by Peter Muris found that children chose spiders as their top fear (ahead of kidnapping, predators and the dark). And what’s more is that they could relay their phobia to a specific event. Perhaps conditioning is the cause of arachnophobia?


However, both research and my own interviews have shown that phobias are often shared in families, suggesting that fear of spiders may in fact be a learnt phobia by social conditioning. Indeed our parents and siblings may have either actively or passively taught us to fear spiders at a young age.


 Fears may in fact be inheritable genetically. A study by John Hettema showed that identical twins (who are also identical genetically) both reacted to the same “fear-relevent” images in a substantially similar way despite both having different environmental experiences. Perhaps you don’t necessarily need to see spiders to fear them?


However, aspects of the “sight” of spiders (e.g. legs and hair) has been the main drive for fear given by arachnophobes. There is even evidence to suggest that this may not be by mistake.


Our visual systems may have inherited particular sensitivity towards threats (such as spiders) that have been present throughout our evolution. Although this sounds far-fetched, researchers Joshua New and Tamsin German found this to be the case. In their study images flashed onto a grid for a split second, when asked participants were far more able to recall the location of spiders than other images.


A Bornean horned spider Parawixia dehaani. Will Hawkes


 As cliché as it sounds, people fear what they don’t understand. Large portions of fear related to spiders can be attributed to lack of knowledge. Dr Katherina Hauner reports that arachnophobes “thought the tarantula might be capable of jumping out of the cage” or “thought the tarantula was capable of planning something evil to purposefully hurt them.” Both being things that spiders are not capable of doing.


The increasing time that we are spending indoors may also be furthering our phobia. Spending more time inside is leading to greater levels of detachment with the natural world or “nature deficit disorder”. As a result, our familiarity of seeing spiders is decreasing, making them more startling when encountered.


Curiously the opposite can be observed in less developed countries containing arguably more dangerous animals.


What can we do?

There are multiple ways of helping to cure your irrational fear of arachnophobia, starting with simply spending more time outside and learning more about spiders.


Paul Pierce-Kelly of London Zoo explains that “understanding and appreciation of their positive roles” along with “Media is important in improving perceptions”.


Exposure therapy (interacting or watching others interact with spiders) has also proven highly successful.


Overall, arachnophobia won’t be cured overnight and will be around at least until the next generation due to such widely spread misconceptions but we should do our best to address this silly fear that so many of us possess.


In the present day having arachnophobia makes very little sense and is completely irrational.   

A spitting spider, Scytodes thoracica. Will Hawkes

Cyprus wolf spider, Eusparassus walckeneri​. Will Hawkes

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