Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Snakes And Spiders Grab Our Attention And Grab It Even Faster If We’re Phobic, A Sign That Perception Evolved

Date:
September 11, 2001
Source:
American Psychological Association
Summary:
It’s long been thought that the common phobias of snakes and spiders are reminders of homo sapiens’ primal past. Now new studies suggest that human perception evolved to accurately and efficiently spot these environmental threats. The research appears in the September issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, published by the American Psychological Association (APA).

WASHINGTON — It’s long been thought that the common phobias of snakes and spiders are reminders of homo sapiens’ primal past. Now new studies suggest that human perception evolved to accurately and efficiently spot these environmental threats. The research appears in the September issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, published by the American Psychological Association (APA).

Psychologists Arne Φhman, Ph.D., Anders Flykt, Ph.D. and Francisco Esteves, Ph.D., all then with the Karolinska Institute and Hospital in Stockholm, conducted three studies in which subjects searched for fear-relevant pictures (images of snakes or spiders) in arrays of fear-irrelevant pictures (images of flowers or mushrooms) and vice versa. A statistically significant number of people (the first two studies used 25 and 30 subjects) found the snakes or spiders more quickly than the harmless objects. Also, they found them faster no matter where they were in the array or how many distractors were present, which suggested that they “popped out” from the display to be automatically detected rather than that they had to be actively looked for.

In a third experiment involving 130 subjects, the researchers learned that people who were phobic about snakes or spiders (according to a questionnaire) found their specific feared objects even faster than did the other, non-phobic subjects. Thus, the authors conclude, evolutionarily relevant threatening stimuli pull the attention of sensitized individuals even faster, an emotion-attention interaction that would help them avoid their feared objects more effectively.

The findings supported the authors’ hypotheses, which they developed in line with findings about angry faces (another fear-relevant stimulus) and the efficient capture of attention. Previous studies had researched the automatic processing of evolutionarily fear-relevant stimuli outside of awareness. Φhman et al. advanced the research by assessing the pre-attentive selection of significant stimuli, to learn about perceptual processes that automatically scan and analyze the perceptual field.

These findings suggest that humans are predisposed to preferentially direct attention toward potentially threatening animal stimuli, that we do it accurately and efficiently, and that the extra-fearful have a heightened attentiveness to the feared object (though they are less accurate). In short, potential threats grab our attention, which has surely helped us to survive. The authors say their findings not only support the evolutionary hypothesis, but also more specifically suggest a default attentional setting in humans that automatically makes them focus their attention on evolutionarily fear-relevant stimuli.

###

Article: “Emotion Drives Attention: Detecting the Snake in the Grass,” Arne Φhman, Anders Flykt and Francisco Esteves, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden; Journal of Experimental Psychology – General, Vol. 130, No. 3.

Full text of the article is available from the APA Public Affairs Office and at http://www.apa.org/journals/xge/press_releases/september_2001/xge1303466.html

The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC, is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world’s largest association of psychologists. APA’s membership includes more than 155,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 53 divisions of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting human welfare.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by American Psychological Association. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

American Psychological Association. "Snakes And Spiders Grab Our Attention And Grab It Even Faster If We’re Phobic, A Sign That Perception Evolved." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 September 2001. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2001/09/010911073152.htm>.
American Psychological Association. (2001, September 11). Snakes And Spiders Grab Our Attention And Grab It Even Faster If We’re Phobic, A Sign That Perception Evolved. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2001/09/010911073152.htm
American Psychological Association. "Snakes And Spiders Grab Our Attention And Grab It Even Faster If We’re Phobic, A Sign That Perception Evolved." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2001/09/010911073152.htm (accessed July 24, 2014).

Share This




More Mind & Brain News

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

New Painkiller Designed To Discourage Abuse: Will It Work?

New Painkiller Designed To Discourage Abuse: Will It Work?

Newsy (July 24, 2014) — The FDA approved Targiniq ER on Wednesday, a painkiller designed to keep users from abusing it. Like any new medication, however, it has doubters. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Can Watching TV Make You Feel Like A Failure?

Can Watching TV Make You Feel Like A Failure?

Newsy (July 24, 2014) — A study by German researchers claims watching TV while you're stressed out can make you feel guilty and like a failure. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
China's Ageing Millions Look Forward to Bleak Future

China's Ageing Millions Look Forward to Bleak Future

AFP (July 24, 2014) — China's elderly population is expanding so quickly that children struggle to look after them, pushing them to do something unexpected in Chinese society- move their parents into a nursing home. Duration: 02:07 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Idaho Boy Helps Brother With Disabilities Complete Triathlon

Idaho Boy Helps Brother With Disabilities Complete Triathlon

Newsy (July 23, 2014) — An 8-year-old boy helped his younger brother, who has a rare genetic condition that's confined him to a wheelchair, finish a triathlon. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

    Health News

      Environment News

        Technology News



          Save/Print:
          Share:  

          Free Subscriptions


          Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

          Get Social & Mobile


          Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

          Have Feedback?


          Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
          Mobile iPhone Android Web
          Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
          Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
          Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins