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Megan64's avatar

Why do so many people hate or fear (or both) spiders?

Asked by Megan64 (5826points) February 5th, 2013

There seems to be a lot of people with a substantial fear of spiders. What is the psychology/reasoning/biology behind this?

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22 Answers

bookish1's avatar

I really do not fully understand this one. I guess they are kind of spooky because they have so many eyes…and limbs. But me, I’ve had a fondness for spiders ever since I read Charlotte’s Web…

In one of the countless books I’ve read recently, I encountered a theory that arachnids and arthropods in general are frightening to humans because they are reminders of mortality. Living skeletons. But spiders kill many noxious insects, and it makes me sad to hear that people are so frightened of spiders that they kill them on sight :(

gorillapaws's avatar

There’s nothing worse than walking through a web you didn’t see. They bite, they skitter, they’re fast, sneaky, attack while you sleep, they eat by sucking the life force out of a victim they’ve immobilized. The compound eyes, the hairy legs… I could go on. Oh, and some can kill you.

Fuck you, spiders, Fuck you and the web you scurried in on!

Berserker's avatar

@bookish1 That makes sense. Spiders seem extremely cruel in wrapping their prey and keeping them there for a while, before sucking out all the insides, leaving nothing but a fabled husk…

They are crafty and patient, making webs and just sitting around, waiting…not all spiders build webs though. The tarantula doesn’t. But it’s big and hairy, and can actually kill small things that aren’t insects.

I’ll never quite know why spiders freak people out a lot, other than the symbolism born of their habits. I mean a lot of wildlife has its own symbolism…the lion is pride, the owl is the keeper of wisdom, the fox is witty, the wolf is powerful, the chicken is some funny shit. Then again not everybody knows how a spider acts, so maybe it’s just all the legs, the webs. Maybe it caters to some part of our most primal fear for some reason. Like how a horse might freak out if it sees a carcass of another animal. Maybe it’s because they’re small, fast and creepy looking? There has to be an answer, and I think @bookish1 is on to something.

Incidentally though, here’s something interesting I once read; for those who believe that dreams have meanings, to dream of a spider indicates one’s personal sense of spirituality and religion. While dreaming of the Sun represents one’s stance on general spirituality and religion, as one understands it. Why is that, because both are round, with skinny little lines sticking out? O_o
Perhaps there is indeed some deeply rooted shit goin down up in this biotch.

Personally though, I think spiders kick ass. Sure, if I went to Africa and saw a spider the size of my fist with a skull pattern on its abdomen, I’d probably stay away from it. But it would still be cool.

I’d love to know the real answer to this though, because I’m dead scared of things like maggots, and I don’t understand why, beyond them being gross. There has to be some reason that goes further than that.

LostInParadise's avatar

What I find curious is how specific the fear is. On another question here about fear of spiders, I asked if those who fear them have problems with centipedes, rats or snakes, all of which freak me out a bit when I first catch sight of them. Several people responded by saying that they had no problems at all with these other animals. It may not be as common, but many people have a fear of snakes. I once met someone who described her fear of them as being as intense as the fear that arachnophobics feel about spiders.

DigitalBlue's avatar

@LostInParadise I’m afraid of spiders, but I’m terrified of bugs, in general. So I can relate to that. I have never really understood why someone would be afraid of a spider, but not of say, a wasp. To me, spiders are much less frightening than other creepy crawlies…. centipedes are a good example. Shudder.

Shippy's avatar

Maybe conditioning? But for me its all those dam legs walking in a fast motion all at once. I am sure there is something disagreeable about that. If you think of how some scary movies are made. The frames are fast and slow almost in the same motion.

SamandMax's avatar

Probably for the same reason they might also fear bats, sharks and er…small fish with sharp teeth. Oh yeah, piranhas. I’m talking bad press and nasty horror stories.
Bats are the ones I feel sorry for, because they really are a misunderstood bunch. Kids will probably be familiar with vampire stories, in which bats are also prevalent.
Spiders, horror movie.
Sharks, Jaws. Hardly a horror movie, more of a badly drawn animation.
Piranhas…kinda obvious.
So really, I think the media has something to do with that. Trick of the mind sort of business. Not to be confused with the theory that the same media is also responsible for acts of murder and other evil wrong-doings.

marinelife's avatar

I don’t know why I am afraid of spiders. It is very innate with me, It is something about their shape.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Spiders are harmless. I’ve been bit by them and while it hurts, it goes away after a bit.

Coloma's avatar

I think it is role modeling and conditioning. I am a huge nature freak, always have been and raised my daughter to love and have curiosity about our natural world and it’s creatures.
If mom or dad freak out about something so will the kiddies.
I just rescued a spider when vacuuming the other day and out it outside.

I am not afraid of anything, other than not wanting to step on a rattlesnake around here in the summers.
My house always has a lizard or tree frog in it during the summer. Daily lizard and frog roundups are the norm over here. lol

HolographicUniverse's avatar

Some might say an evolutionary trait considering the size of ancient spiders thus by avoidance it benefits survival.

Most spiders can be dangerous, as commonly believed, so it’s only natural to fear them like you would fear a snake.

Personally im an entomophobe, I find the unpredictability and appearance of insects very sinister, my skin crawls thinking about them. I honestly cannot understand how people find them beautiful.

thorninmud's avatar

Just my own theory here (but I like it):

You know how we have motor neurons that allow our brains to look at other beings in action and understand them by mirroring their actions in our own motor cortices? In other words we see a creature do something, and the brain gives us the feeling of doing it ourselves.

This is easier to do with creatures that have bodies analogous to our own. A dog body isn’t a human body, but it’s not too much of a stretch to watch this four-limbed creature with two eyes, two ears, etc. and translate its actions in a way that our own bodies can understand. We can even do that with birds, although the analogy is a bit more of a stretch.

That mirror neuron connection is comforting. It makes us feel like we have some insight into what that creature is up to. It feels less alien because we can relate to it.

With creatures whose bodies are radically different from our own, though, that connection become much more difficult. I think this is less of a problem with creatures who, like snakes, lack certain body features that we have, since we can intuit what it might be like not to have limbs. But it’s harder to relate to creatures who have more limbs, more eyes, etc. This completely baffles the mirror neurons, and they return a no comprendo error message.

That alone might account for the fear many feel of bugs in general, but when you add into this the fact that spiders do pose some non-zero risk of harm, then the fact that we can’t establish that mirror connection and intuit what they’re up to can make us freak out.

OpryLeigh's avatar

I have never understood this myself, especially in a country like the UK (where I live) where the spiders are pretty harmless. And why is it that spiders seem to be hated more than any other bug? I happen to really like spiders and will happily share my flat with them! My mother was scared of spiders and my brother and I were constantly on rescue missions to make sure that any trespassing spider would be set free rather than squished!!! I think it is one of those phobias that is learnt, it’s like people think they should be afraid of them because one (or both) of their parents were or their friends were, they convince themselves that they are afraid too. I am not saying that there aren’t people with real phobias of spiders that don’t stem from other people but I would be willing to put money on them being in the minority.

marinelife's avatar

@Coloma I love nature too, but spiders have always terrified me. I do not think it is conditioning. Neither of my parents was afraid of spiders. Me thinkest thou talkest through thy goosefeather hat.

Berserker's avatar

@HolographicUniverse Some might say an evolutionary trait considering the size of ancient spiders thus by avoidance it benefits survival.

Heh, maybe. A lot of spiders are poisonous too. Not any around here, or not many anyways, but in hotter places like Africa, they have quite some hard up spiders. An evolutionary trait that naturally instills spider fear/disgust in people might make sense, since some spiders can be real dangerous. And Africa, I believe, is where mankind started out, so that leaves a lot of years for people to have got sick or bit or even killed by some spiders.

But in your link, some people also eat them. man, such a crazy world

HolographicUniverse's avatar

Haha rather ironic isn’t it? They’re deadly yet have nutritional benefits.

Berserker's avatar

@HolographicUniverse Interesting. I know a lot of people eat stuff like crickets and termites, although I was unaware that insects are that good for you. I’ve had cricket before, tastes like charred french fries. Also this part made me laugh; So where do you get these things? Well, it’s best to not venture into your backyard seeking beetles or termites. lol

Doesn’t mention spiders though, but wiki mentions fried spider.

Coloma's avatar

@Symbeline Maybe after about 5 shots of Tequilla. haha

mattbrowne's avatar

Ancient DNA, i.e. genetic memory that predates hominid species. It’s like natural fear of heights.

JRNUMBER12's avatar

I think it has to do with the fact that they have even more legs than insects, which there are more of than anything else alive on the planet.

Tanushree's avatar

may be its genetic..

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