Parents pass on 'irrational fear' of snakes to children

Researchers at Rutgers University have found that people are not born with an innate fear of spiders and snakes but they learn how to be scared of them in the first years of life due to their parents, the 'Daily Mail' reported.

For their study, the researchers carried out two experiments. In the first one, they showed seven-month-old babies two videos side by side - one of a snake and another of a non-threatening animal.

At the same time, the babies were played a recording of either a fearful human voice or a happy one. The infants spent more time looking at the snake videos when listening to the fearful voices, but showed no signs of fear themselves.

In a second experiment, three-year-olds were shown a screen of nine photographs and told to pick out a named object.They identified snakes more quickly than flowers, and more quickly than other animals that looked similar to snakes such as caterpillars and frogs.
The children who were afraid of snakes were just as fast at picking them out than children who had not developed a snake phobia.

"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.

"Babies detect snakes quickly -- and then learn to be afraid of them really quickly," Dr Vanessa LoBue of Rutgers University, who led the study, was quoted as saying.The findings have been published in the 'Current Directions in Psychological Science' journal.

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