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Human Perceptual and Phobic Biases for Snakes: A Review of the Experimental Evidence

By Marcus Baynes-Rock

Category Journal Articles
Abstract

In this paper I review the literature on the evolutionary origins of phobias and describe the current state of research on the neurobiology and developmental origins of ophidiophobia—fear of snakes. In doing so I compare experimental evidence related to evolutionary explanations for snake fears and phobias which are outlined in Seligman’s Preparedness Theory and Isbell’s Snake Detection Theory. These theories have been tested extensively using a variety of experimental paradigms aimed at determining the “innateness” of snake fears, the neural pathways involved in fear responses to snakes, and the perceptual biases associated with snake stimuli. However, in the vast majority of these experiments, the stimuli presented are photographs of snakes rather than the real thing. I argue that this point of methodology, while ironically supportive of the findings, is based on some assumptions about cognition and consciousness which run counter to neuroscience. In understanding human responses to snakes, we need to understand better the interplay between cognition and consciousness and how these represent a pluralism of mind in which perception is much more than we think.

Publication Title Anthrozoös
Volume 30
Issue 1
Pages 5-18
ISBN/ISSN 0892-7936
DOI 10.1080/08927936.2017.1270584
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Tags
  1. phobias
  2. Snakes
  3. Theories