The "Disgusting" Spider: The Role of Disease and Illness in the Perpetuation of Fear of Spiders

in Society & Animals
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  • 1 1THE CITY UNIVERSITY, LONDON

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Abstract

Recent studies of spider phobia have indicated thatfearof spiders is closely associated with the disease-avoidance response of disgust. It is argued that the disgust-relevant status of the spider resulted from its association with disease and illness in European cultures from the tenth century onward. The development of the association between spiders and illness appears to be linked to the many devastating and inexplicable epidemics that struck Europe from the Middle Ages onwards, when the spider was a suitable displaced target for the anxieties caused by these epidemics. Such factors suggest that the pervasive fear of spiders that is commonly found in many Western societies may have cultural rather than biological origins, and may be restricted to Europeans and their descendants.

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