Over the last three years we have successfully introduced snakes into group activities of children with disabilities, adolescents with behavior problems, and the elderly in nursing homes. This study presents data on the interaction of these groups with four placid and non-poisonous species of snakes of the Boidae and Colubridae families. The primary interactions (PI) included touching, holding, or petting; and the interaction rates during three meetings were recorded. Interaction rates with the children ranged from 50% to 100% and with the elderly from 67% to 86%. In the third encounter 9.5% more elderly agreed to interact with the snakes. When children in the study were offered the choice of a friendly dog, a rabbit, or a snake, 25% to 47% (mean 39%) chose the snake, whereas only 27% and 25% preferred the dog or the rabbit respectively. These results suggest that the affinity and desire of children with disabilities and the elderly to interact with snakes is strong and that this affinity and desire can outweigh cultural stereotypes, widespread fears, and negative attitudes. Many of the negative attitudes, including fear of snakes, are believed to be unconscious and unrelated to conditioned behavior. The psychological significance of the snake as a symbol in the human psyche and culture is discussed in relation to the potential future use of snakes in Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) with populations that have disabilities.
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