Understanding Early Perceptual Biases toward Threatening Animals: A Possible Precursor to Fear Open Access

Conroy, Kaitlin (2014)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/z890rt39d?locale=en


Snakes and spiders are common human fears, and are animals that posed a significant threat to survival throughout evolutionary history. It is possible that humans have evolved a predisposition to quickly detect and learn to fear these animals. Studies have shown that people demonstrate biased spatial perception toward snakes and spiders and, when searching for these animals, are able to locate them more quickly than they are able to locate nonthreatening animals. This perceptual bias is evident early in life, even before children display behavioral signs of fear, and it is possible that this bias may prepare children to learn to fear these animals later in life. The present study used a visual search task with 3-to-5 year old children to explore perceptual biases toward snakes and spiders and to examine individual differences in these biases. We also explored the association between child reaction time to locate threatening animals and parent fears of snakes and spiders. Our results showed that children found threatening animals significantly faster than they find nonthreatening animals, and that within the category of threatening animals, children located snakes faster than they located spiders. Reaction times to locate snakes were correlated with reaction times to find spiders. There was no correlation between parent fear and child reaction time. This study provides further support for perceptual biases toward evolutionarily threatening stimuli early in life.

Keywords: threat perception, fear, perceptual biases

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Introduction - Page 1

Method - Page 9

Participants - Page 9

Tasks - Page 10

Results - Page 14 Discussion - Page 17 References - Page 25

Tables & Figures - Page 29

Appendix - Page 39

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