A recent study that looked into the cause of the common phobia of spiders and snakes shows that we are not born afraid of spiders and snakes, which is a belief that many sufferers have. It shows that we are most likely conditioned into the fear by parents or siblings. However, it does show that according to a series of experiments conducted on more than 70 small children, that while quickly recognizing creepy creatures appears to be innate, fearing them is not.
According to Vanessa LoBue, assistant professor of psychology at Rutgers and co-author of a recent study in Current Directions in Psychological Science, spider and snake phobias are incredibly common. But they’re also rather baffling, since most of us have never been directly threatened by a spider or snake.
“When you look at the way people learn to be afraid of things, they usually have a negative encounter,” she says. “A dog bites you when you’re little, so you’re afraid of dogs. But most people haven’t been bitten by a snake or spider.”
At The Surrey Institute of Clinical Hypnotherapy our phobia specialists have been working with these phobias for years. We recognised early on that these phobias could not be innate simply by the fact that they are so easy to remove. A phobia of spiders and snakes can often be removed in a couple of sessions. If the conditioning was strong i.e. a parent figure showing abject fear regularly and often especially at a very early age, it can take a lot longer.
Clients can often feel a strong revulsion to spiders and snakes rather than fear. Strangely enough this can often be harder to resolve as it is often harder to get to and rationalise the reason for the revulsion.
As Professor LoBue says, most people have never been bitten by spiders and snakes but that does not seem to matter when it comes to phobias. We have had clients that are scared of boiled eggs and oranges and to my knowledge they have never been bitten by either of them!
Phobias, although fairly simple in terms of anxiety disorders, can themselves be underpinned by many different facets and reasons. However, what this study shows is that we are not born with them so it has to be conditioning. The great news for those who suffer with phobias is that if it’s conditioning then it can be changed.
Paul Howard is an anxiety specialist who has worked at The Surrey Institute of Clinical Hypnotherapy in Wallington, Surrey for ten years dealing with many different types of phobias and anxiety.