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Where Do Our Fear of Snakes, Spiders and Moths Come From?

Why are people creeped out by moths, frogs and other insects despite the fear of snakes and spiders being the two most common phobias amongst human beings? Ottmar Lipp, who is a professor of Psychology at Curtin University, provides an explanation for why and how we develop these fears.

Researchers believe humans have evolved to fear snakes. Due to some snakes preying on primates, Lipp states, “it has been proven that the ability to spot snakes quickly, to be alert to them and learn to be afraid of them was an advantage.” This is not a bad thing as it has been beneficial to humans in the evolutionary sense. To this day, snake bites are responsible for over 100 people each year, especially in places like India and Indonesia.

Fear of spiders, however, was more difficult to provide an explanation for, as there were not many cases of spiders preying on people. Professor Lipp concluded that spiders were quick and unpredictable, and their unexpected ways made people anxious. As human beings, “we want to be able to predict our environment and not be surprised”, says Lipp.

The rest of the phobias can be linked to negative experiences, which mostly happened when they were young, or which they witnessed. As children, they learn their fears vicariously when seeing other people responding fearfully. Since fear and anxiety are a learnt response, children take cues from their parents. Lipp believes parents are to blame for people’s fears of moths, frogs and other insects.