London: The sight of a spider crawling the wall makes many people scream and run -- but a new study says that women are four times more likely to be fearful than men as they are genetically primed to get scared.
An international team has found women are genetically predisposed to develop fears for potentially dangerous animals -- in fact, once baby girls have learned to associate spiders
with fear, they don't forget, but boys do.
"It makes evolutionary sense to acquire spider fear at a certain age, rather than to be born with it. There is little reason for an infant to fear an object unless it responds to it for example by crawling away," the 'New Scientist' quoted team leader David Rakison of Carnegie Mellon University.
In their study, the researchers found that baby girls only 11 months old rapidly start to associate pictures of spiders with fear. Baby boys remain blithely indifferent to
In an initial training phase, they showed 10 baby girls and boys a picture of a spider together with a fearful face. In the following test phase, they let them watch the image of a spider paired with a happy face, and the image of a flower paired with a fearful face.
Despite the spider's happy companion, the girls looked significantly longer at it than at the flower. The researchers took this to mean that the girls expected spiders to be linked
with fear. The boys looked for an equal time at both images.
With a different group of babies, the team first showed a spider with a happy face, and a flower with a fearful face. Now, the girls too looked at both images for the same length of time -- implying that they did not have an inborn fear of spiders.
"The results suggest that girls are more inclined than boys to learn to fear dangerous animals. By contrast, modern phobias such as fear of flying or injections show no sex
difference," Rakison said.
The study has been published in the 'Evolution and Human Behavior' journal.
First Published: Friday, August 28, 2009, 13:30