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fear of spiders

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I am no more afraid of spiders than the average person, so don't take this thread as meaning that I have some paralyzing arachnaphobia.

But a few minutes ago a spider dropped down from behind my monitor, and it made me reflexively roll my chair backwards a few feet. Why do we tend to react that way to creatures that are thousands of times smaller than we are?

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Is that a joke? Spiders a deadly threat?

I like spiders - I think the way they build huge traps to capture their prey is very cool. And digesting your victim from the inside out before eating them? Awesome.

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There's also the very charming Charlotte.

To Fëanor: I doubt that people are born with these reactions. One often observes younger kids being very neutral or even curious about all such creatures. For that matter, really young kids are completely fearless about things one might think of as being "natural" dangers, like stepping off a solid surface into the air, when there's a drop that will surely hurt or kill a human. Fearless is the wrong word, because it connotes bravery, while kids at that age aren't brave, they're just ignorant.

At a slightly older age, some kids can be apprehensive about things that are unknown. However, I think the biggest factor is what they're taught. There are good and bad reasons for teaching kids scary stories about such creatures.

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So, no one else has any theories as to why people tend to fear spiders? Softwarenerd's answer is a start, but it doesn't really explain how the fear originated in the first place...just how it gets passed on to children.

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I think fear of spiders is socially conditioned. Parents are afraid of spiders, so their children are afraid of spiders. They observe their parents' reactions to spiders and develop an association.

Also, spiders are unique. There is nothing analogous to them anywhere else in the animal kingdom, at least from a child's perspective. They aren't warm and soft, they don't fly, they have a strange way of moving, and they're oddly shaped, with their legs making them look much larger than they really are. Children don't have enough knowledge to be able to connect spiders with the rest of the world, so they fear them as something foreign. Perhaps something similar goes on with octopuses, which, like spiders, often figure prominantly as monsters in children's stories.

At least, that's what I remember about why I used to be afraid of them. Then I learned about them and found there's nothing (or at least, very little) to be afraid of. I still squish them when I find them in my house, because I don't like the mess they make or want them ending up in my food, but outdoors I've been known to occasionally stare down large specimens at close range. There was one spider who lived in a large window at my mother's house. He was large (~2" dia) and spun a beautiful web about two feet across. I would catch houseflies and throw them into the web to watch him eat them.

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I think fear of spiders is socially conditioned. Parents are afraid of spiders, so their children are afraid of spiders. They observe their parents' reactions to spiders and develop an association.

Also, spiders are unique. There is nothing analogous to them anywhere else in the animal kingdom, at least from a child's perspective. They aren't warm and soft, they don't fly, they have a strange way of moving, and they're oddly shaped, with their legs making them look much larger than they really are. Children don't have enough knowledge to be able to connect spiders with the rest of the world, so they fear them as something foreign. Perhaps something similar goes on with octopuses, which, like spiders, often figure prominantly as monsters in children's stories.

I think you're probably mostly right, but you'd think that people would realize that, since they are not usually dangerous, there's no reason to act with revulsion, like people normally do. I know that they won't hurt me, but I still try to avoid letting them get to close to me, unless I'm trying to kill one.

I still squish them when I find them in my house, because I don't like the mess they make or want them ending up in my food, but outdoors I've been known to occasionally stare down large specimens at close range.

I used to do that. Until, one day, I was staring from a couple of feet away, crouched down, to get a better look at a rather large wolf spider. Then it jumped onto my leg and started crawling up to my torso, but I was able to brush it off before it got there. Ever since then, I make sure that I am not withing jumping distance, if I'm going to look at one.

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[Y]ou'd think that people would realize that ... there's no reason to act with revulsion.
But that would require that I believe that people regularly think reasonably about things. <grin>

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I think you're probably mostly right, but you'd think that people would realize that, since they are not usually dangerous, there's no reason to act with revulsion, like people normally do.

There are plenty of reasons, really. Spiders are all poisonous and while most won't kill you, you still wouldn't enjoy being bitten. Especially if you have an allergic reaction. They also tend to crawl up into things, so if you let one get close it is likely to crawl into your clothes (as that one did to you) and then bite you in an uncomfortable place.

Plus, they are bugs. All Bugs Must Die.

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I am no more afraid of spiders than the average person, so don't take this thread as meaning that I have some paralyzing arachnaphobia.

But a few minutes ago a spider dropped down from behind my monitor, and it made me reflexively roll my chair backwards a few feet. Why do we tend to react that way to creatures that are thousands of times smaller than we are?

I think catching a glimpse of a living creature(or thinking you see a living creature) when you arent expecting one to be there will initially cause a startling reaction, just because its a natural reaction and part of the alarm stage of humans.

But when people are afraid of spiders even after they have a clear view of them, its probably because they dont know whether the spider can harm them or not. The average person says "hes probably not dangerous." They dont KNOW though, especially because some species of spiders are dangerous and some arent, and since they dont know exactly which ones are then they are fearful to a degree. People are less afraid of ants though because they are more sure they will cause no harm(they will be more fearful of red colored ants though even if they arent the exact species that are dangerous). The more certain you are that something wont harm you, the less afraid you will be of it.

Its like when Austin Stevens(on Animal Planet) spots giant pythons in the wilderness, he is probably a lot more confident and less fearful of the snake than the average person. Thats because Austin Stevens understands snakes, has a comprehensive knowledge on all the species, and mainly because he knows how to handle them without getting hurt. The average person will be in shock if he sees a giant python in the wilderness. A giant python in a secure cage however wont make many people too fearful though since they are more certain it wont harm them.

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I have had a phobia of wasps ever since I was 5 years old. I actually remember when it started: I had a nightmare of seeing an "ouchie insect" on a flower. I woke up screaming and my parents rushed into the room. I was very confused and my father explained to me that I had a nightmare and told me what a nightmare was.

It is perfectly reasonable for people not to want to mess with wasps and to be uncomfortable if one comes near. But my phobia goes beyond that. If there is a wasp sitting on the wall on the other side of a large room from me and poses little or no threat of stinging me, I am profoundly uncomfortable. Unfortunately, the space between the drop ceiling in my office at work and the building's roof has wasp nests in it - apparently there is some sort of opening in the building where they can get in. The wasps frequently get trapped in the florescent light fixtures in the ceiling and they usually die. This time of year is particularly bad because it is too cold for them to live outside. But there is enough heat above the drop ceiling to keep them alive through winter and apparently they try to come down for the heat. Every so often, one of them gets past the drop ceiling and I end up having a wasp flying around in my office. People know by now that if they see me all of a sudden come running out of the office slamming the door behind me that I have been paid a visit by a wasp - it has become an office joke. Then one of my staff members ends up having to go in and kill the big bad wasp so that their brave and fearless boss can get back to work.

Is my phobia irrational? Of course it is - a phobia by definition is irrational. Do I plan on doing anything about it? No. I have asked myself if a life without fear of wasps would improve my happiness to such a degree as to be worth the rediculous amount of time and money I would have to spend in a shrink's office trying to be cured of it. The answer is - no. If I had that time and money, there are countless other things I could spend it on that would contribute more to my long term will being and happiness. It is far cheaper to just stay away from the evil creatures, ask people to kill them for me and have lots and lots of wasp spray on hand around the house.

Spiders don't bother me too much - I know that most of the varieties I see around my house are harmless and probably beneficial. But I am not sure if they are harmless to my cats who tend to try and make "friends" out of bugs that come into the house. So, if I see one, I usually step on it. One time I woke up and saw a spider hanging down a few inches above my head. That was rather freaky. Had I remained asleep, it probably would have simply landed and walked off.

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I think you're probably mostly right, but you'd think that people would realize that, since they are not usually dangerous, there's no reason to act with revulsion, like people normally do.
Are you projecting, or do you have evidence that people normally act with revulsion when they see spiders? I only know one person who has utter spider-freakout, so I'm wondering if for example only most people, or some people, or a few people act this way. I just wonder if this is a "normal" reaction, and that lack of fear or revulsion is abnormal.

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Is my phobia irrational? Of course it is - a phobia by definition is irrational.

Is it right to call a fear irrational? The fear itself consists of no contradictions to reality. Lack of knowledge and uncertainty is what causes a fear to form. Therefore it is the persons behavior and actions(or lack of) that should only be deemed irrational, not the actual fear.

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I don't think people are scared of spiders, per-se, but scared of the unexpected (which is of course natural). If we were to replace a spider, with, lets say a mouse, or a rat, or a cute kitty, the same exact reaction will happen (but the end result will of course be different - you might decide to hug and nurture a kitty instead of squishing it).

People expect order and consistency in their lives. If something behaves in one manner at one time once, it should then behave in that manner constantly (for better or worse). If your car always has a ticking noise, and it doesn't increase, or cause anything else to go wrong, then that ticking noise is natural. If you sit down at the computer, and everytime before it the computer works great, then you expect that. If, however a spider jumps down, that is an unexpected change, and a rational person will jump and get away from it.

Of course, I'm not referring to phobias, but just rational reactions to unexpected changes.

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What is a fear, in your opinion? Are there no irrational emotions? Is it irrational to fear this? Or this? Or this?

I'll define 'fear' as a desire to want to escape;escape from responsibility, escape from a seemingly harmful event. The fear exists because (at least) your subconscious is not convinced of certainty from harm(emotional or physical harm), and your decision how you handle this fear is what can be irrational.

I dont think there are irrational emotions because they are automatic. The actions or values one has choosen voluntarily that caused those emotions may be irrational but not the emotion itself.

I cant say its rational or irrational to fear a little kitten, a bunny, or a dog with large sharp teeth. Like I mentioned in this post, the fear will exist if you are having uncertainties of the event. That means it will depend strictly on the specific situation and person involved. How much does the person value life? Does the person have a gun or weapon? Does the person have knowledge of kittens, bunnies, or dogs? Saying that, I think a fear will always be correct. Correct meaning it will always and only exist when you are uncertain of harm, and also what the person thinks is harmful to himself.

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I'll define 'fear' as a desire to want to escape;escape from responsibility, escape from a seemingly harmful event. The fear exists because (at least) your subconscious is not convinced of certainty from harm(emotional or physical harm), and your decision how you handle this fear is what can be irrational.

I dont think there are irrational emotions because they are automatic. The actions or values one has choosen voluntarily that caused those emotions may be irrational but not the emotion itself.

The bigger point is that emotions, such as happiness, sadness, pride, disgust and fear have a rational basis, so the notion of rationality is applicable to emotion even though people often see them as being irreducible primaries that are completely outside of reason. I definitely would want to escape from a polar bear (were there one in my vicinity), so I think that would be a fear, by your definition. But my fear is based on knowing their brutal method of survival, plus my rational decision not to assist them in their goal of surviving. This isn't automatic, it is knowing and calculated. So, then, even you seem to agree....
Like I mentioned in this post, the fear will exist if you are having uncertainties of the event.
that a fear isn't necessarily automatic. If you have certain knowledge, that means fear is totally rational or totally irrational. Knowledge of vicious killer dogs and the horrifying damage that they can actually inflict on the human body is a reason to fear certain dogs. Fear of cute little bunnies and kitties is totally irrational.

So since there is no automatic spider-fear reaction in humans, a person's reaction to spiders (or kittens, or tigers) is either based on reason or it is not. If the animal is dangerous, you know that fact, and you fear it, that is being rational; if the animal is not-dangerous, you know that fact, and you fear it, that is being irrational. (You might be revolted by it, because of its appearance, but that's different). Being afraid of a kitten is a contradiction of reality; being afraid of a polar bear is an embracing of reality.

As for the unknown, I would argue that fear of the unknown is also irrational, unless you accept the Malevolent Universe Premise.

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Is it right to call a fear irrational? The fear itself consists of no contradictions to reality. Lack of knowledge and uncertainty is what causes a fear to form. Therefore it is the persons behavior and actions(or lack of) that should only be deemed irrational, not the actual fear.

Fear can be irrational if one is well aware that it is way out of proportion to any objective threat.

For example, I know very well that a wasp on the other side of the room is not likely to sting me. I also know that wasps are rather clumsy when flying around from observing other people trying to catch and swat them for me. I have yet to see anyone trying to kill a wasp for me get stung by one. I also know that a single wasp sting is not all THAT painful. I can understand why a normal person would kill any wasp that comes into the room - one does not want to take chances of later on accidentally provoking it. But for me to feel as uncomfortable as I do when one is in the room and to have to ask other people to kill the things for me - well that is not rational. It is not like a cobra has crawled into my office and one bite by the thing and I am gone.

Now, the fact that I have an irrational fear does not mean that I am irrational. How I respond to that fear, however, is something which is open to judgement on whether or not I am rational. There are some instances when such a fear gets in the way of one achieving his values - and to simply give into it without at least trying to overcome it very often is irrational. In my case - well, my fear of wasps does not have that much of an impact on my life. I don't worry about it. I just ask someone to kill the evil creatures for me or keep bug spray handy.

I do have another fear, however, which does have a bigger impact on my life - flying. I hate flying. Everything about it freaks me out. I don't really enjoy even being a passenger in a car and, at high speeds and in heavy traffic, I am actually rather nervous being a passenger. I am somewhat of a control freak - and not being able to do anything and being entirely at the mercy of someone else to react to emerging situations that could impact my physical safety, well, that makes me very uncomfortable. Airplanes are the very worst of that sort of thing as far as I am concerned. Take-offs are the very worst part for me - I can hear the engines straining and I just KNOW that I am going to hear a funny noise, the engines will stop and I will be in a free fall. When the plane reaches cruising altitude, I do a bit better and, if the flight is smooth, I enjoy looking for geographical landmarks from the window. But if there is turbulance - well, every bump freaks me out. 9-11 really freaked me out as far as flying was concerned because that added a whole new dimension to something that I was already very uncomfortable with. And the fact that our government is more concerned with not offending the sensibilities of terrorists than protecting my safety - well, that doesn't help things either.

Is there a rational basis to be concerned about flying? Sure. Your fate IS in somebody else's hands. Planes DO crash. On the other hand, statistically, it is the safest way to travel. The technology has been around since the very early 1900s so it is not like riding along with a test pilot. Flight insurance is dirt cheap - and it wouldn't be if flying was as dangerous as I fear. Nevertheless, flying scares the crap out of me - and for it to do so to such a degree is an irrational fear. More than that, it is something that does jeopardize my ability to pursue values. There are occasions when I do wish to visit other parts of the country and to visit people who live in them. For that reason, I fight the fear in the sense of actually MAKING myself get on airplanes whenever I have a need to travel either for business (which is rare) or for pleasure. If I had allowed my fear of flying to get the best of me, I would never have been able to visit New York City on the three occasions I have so far. That is one of my favorite places in the world - and my life would be less wonderful if I didn't get to go there every so often. Now, if I have a choice between driving and flying I will usually opt to drive even though it takes more time. A certain amount of extra time is worth being spared the stress of having to fly. But places such as New York City are not really possible for me to drive to simply because the trip there and back would cut into either most or all of the time that I have available for the trip.

My attitude with one's irrational fears is, if they are getting in the way of one's quality of life, do your best to recognize that they are irrational and fight them to whatever degree you are able. If it doesn't significantly impact your quality of life and it is something such as a fear of spiders and wasps - well, that's what they make bug spray for.

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