What Causes Arachnophobia

file0001540141780Arachnophobia (fear of spiders) is one of the most frequent specific phobias. Studies (Davey 1992) show that 1 out of 3 women and 1 out of 4 men actively fear spiders.

There’s no a unique opinion on causes of fear of spiders. Various researchers have various theories about that but none can completely explain why this fear appears. In the following text I shall describe one of the most frequent theories trying to explain the causes of Arachnophobia.

Learning experiences as a cause of Arachnophobia

One of the theories for phobia development (incl. Arachnophobia) states that phobias may be caused through specific learning experiences (S. Rachman 1977). If the spider, for example, bites us and we get a panic attack, this may cause fear of spiders.

A phobia may also appear on the basis of other people’s experience. If somebody who we know experiences a panic attack because of a spider, such experience may cause our own phobia. According to this theory, one of the ways to develop a phobia realizes through the information we read in books or media (newspapers, television, movies, Internet). In case we’ve read the article in the newspapers that someone died due to the deadly bite of a spider, this may also cause Arachnophobia. Of course, people who develop such fear of spiders are not aware that it’s unlikely they’d also die because of a spider’s deadly bite, since bite of most of the spiders is dangerous as much as a mosquito’s bite.

This theory may explain the development of phobias in majority of cases. However, significant number of people with Arachnophobia (as well as with other specific phobias) stated that they always had it and that learning experience hasn’t caused it. Those statements led researchers to search for causes of phobias in some other sources. Consequently, numerous researches were conducted and there’s come to the theory that phobias (incl. Fear of spiders) may be caused under the influence of biological factors.

Preparedness theory as a cause of Arachnophobia

According to the preparedness theory (Selingman 1971), people have biological predisposition for fears of objects and situations which may endanger his life. That’s the reason why people develop fears of spiders, because this animal species through evolution represented a threat for man’s survival. In support to this theory is the fact that fear of spiders is much more frequent than e.g. the fear of butterflies. However, there are the fears of animals which were not threats for our ancestors, as the above mentioned fear of butterflies, so the preparedness may explain the development of some phobias, while for some other not.

Genetics as the factor of Arachnophobia

Genetics may present the significant factor for phobia development. It’s been proven that specific kinds of phobias can be inherited. According to the study (Kendler, Karkowski, and Prescott 1999) genetics may increase the probability of developing phobia in 47%.

Disgust sensitivity as a cause of Arachnophobia

Some researchers showed (Bennett-Levy, & Marteau 1984) there’s a positive correlation between the fear of small animals (including spiders) and the extent they are perceived as ugly and slimy.

This research required that people estimate 29 animals and insects on the basis of three (3) factors:

-          How the creatures are ugly/ how strange they look

-          To what extent they’re harmfulness

-          Extent of fear of specific creatures

The research indicated that there’s a high degree of correlation between the fear people have towards specific animals and insects and their disgust characteristics.


Therefore, many factors can influence on Arachnophobia development. Even though each theory does not provide the final answer regarding the causes of fear of spiders, it can be stated that this fear develops and the complex interaction between different factors.


Bennett-Levy, J., & Marteau, T. (1984). Fear of animals: What is prepared? British Journal of Psychology 75,
Davey G.C.L  (1992) Characteristics of individuals with fears of spiders Anxiety Research 4, 299-314
Kendler, K. S., L. M. Karkowski, and C. A. Prescott. 1999. Fear and phobias: Reliability and heritability. Psychological Medicine 29:539–553.
Rachman, S. 1977. The conditioning theory of fear-acquisition: A critical examination. BehaviourResearch and Therapy 15:375–387.
Seligman, M. E. P. 1971. Phobias and preparedness. Behavior Therapy 2:307–320.
Aleksandar Nikolic (6 Posts)



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>