Why do we find Spiders scary

By M.Farouk Radwan, MSc.

But they are not harmful, right?

Fear is an emotion that has the purpose of protecting us from danger.It makes a lot of sense that we get afraid when we see a large creature that can harm us in a way or another.

But why do some of us get terrified at the sight of small spiders that can do nothing to us?
Why our body triggers the fear response where as there is no real danger?

Here is one interesting fact about emotions. Our brains collect information about the objects we interact with both consciously and unconsciously. Sometimes an unconscious reason that has nothing to do with conscious logic can result in producing an intense fear response.

Why do we find Spiders scary

  • 1) We are afraid to lose control: As weird as it sounds this is one of the reasons we fear spiders. Control freaks and people with a strong desire of being in control might feel very uncomfortable around spiders because they are too unpredictable. You can't really guess what the spider's next move will be. Will it move fast or jump away? Will it jump somewhere else or just land on your clothes? See The psychology of control freaks
  • 2) They look too unfamiliar: Humans feel comfortable and safe in familiar environments. We even make friends with the ones we feel safe the most around. We might not eat a weird looking food just because we unconsciously think that it's not safe. Spiders look anything but familiar and the same goes for a large group of insects. Too many legs, hairy bodies, angular legs, strange looking heads and other features make spiders totally unfamiliar creatures
  • 3) They appear all of a sudden: I said earlier that if an emotion occurred many times in the presence of something then those emotions are going to be associated with that thing. This is why children learn to fear the things their parents fear. It's just the fact that the children associate the fear they experience when they see their parents terrified with that new object. The problem with spiders is that they appear all of a sudden and as a result we experience a small shock of fear. As this shock keeps repeating itself over and over we might get conditioned to fear spiders. See How fears are learned
  • 4) We are afraid they get inside us: Many of the fears we have towards some insects might be connected to another fear which is the fear that the insect gets inside our body in a way or another. The fear that an insect can get inside our body through our noses, mouths or ears is another fear that feeds our fears of insects and spiders
  • 5) Fear of sickness: At the heart of disgust lies the fear of getting infected by some kind of disease. Disgust is a feeling that has the purpose of helping us avoid contaminated things in order for us to stay healthy. Since insects have a high probability of being dirty they can trigger our disgust response. See Why some people get easily disgusted
  • 6) It's a conditioned response: In many cases the fear of spiders can be nothing more than a conditioned response where as you learned how to fear the spider because you saw others fearing it. In one experiment monkeys learned how to fear snakes when they saw how other monkeys were terrified of them
  • 7) They can come from any direction: Spiders can come from almost anywhere. It's very abnormal to see a cockroach landing on your head from above but when it comes to spiders that's highly possible. The element of surprise coupled with the element of uncertainty makes spiders very scary to some people

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