YOUR BRAIN CAN CONFUSE DISGUST WITH FEAR AND COULD BE THE REASON BUGS ARE SCARY
YOUR BRAIN CAN CONFUSE DISGUST WITH FEAR AND COULD BE THE REASON BUGS ARE SCARY.
Recently creepy clowns are getting all the attention; however Science of Us is investigating the psychology behind some of the most common fears – bugs!
Ecologist Jeffrey Lockwood, author of The Infested Mind, remembered a time when he found himself caught in a massive grasshopper swarm: “I had worked with insects for years and grasshoppers for a very long period, but [in this instance] their numbers and behavior and their overwhelming capacity conspired to generate a panic attack, which was extremely disturbing for me. I’d never had such a reaction to insects or to grasshoppers in particular, until that time.”
This shows no one is immune to their strange, terrifying power. And it is strange: We know, rationally, that most of these tiny pests can’t hurt us, and yet we shriek when they land on our skin, give them prominent roles in our horror movies, and spend a ton of time and money to rid them from our homes.
Why bugs that are so small and harmless are considered so scary?
First of all - some of them are actually dangerous. To be fair, insects aren’t always so innocent: Some of them bite or sting. The Zika epidemic over the past year has been an acute reminder that they can carry devastating diseases.
In one 2001 study, for example, the study’s authors showed volunteers pictures containing elements that were either threatening (spiders and snakes) or neutral (mushrooms and flowers) and asked them to locate the target object within the photo. Overall, the participants spotted the spiders and snakes much more quickly than anything else; those who had previously indicated on a questionnaire that they were afraid of either species proved especially speedy at honing in on them.
We also find them disgusting - we aren’t just afraid of insects the same way we would fear other dangerous animals, like lions or bears. There are plenty of species that we’d run from if we saw them in the wild, but that we have no qualms about making into cuddly animated characters — but there’s a reason we don’t have bugs on the covers of our cereal boxes or appearing as lovable heroes in our kids’ cartoons: The fear of insects is a more complicated fear, one that’s tightly bound up with feelings of disgust.
Psychologists studying disgust talk about something called the “rejection response” — the overwhelming feeling that you need to get this thing away from you immediately. Disgust is shaped in part by culture, but it also has its roots in biology, and the rejection response, like fear, is a mechanism designed to keep us safe: We’re disgusted by feces and rotting food, for instance, because each has the potential to make us sick. Along those same lines, the presence of insects often indicates that something isn’t safe to consume or touch
They look weird, or a swarm of them, or they trespass on our turf.
There are other theories, too. Some researchers believe insects are terrifying mainly because their physical forms are so unlike our own — skeletons outside their bodies, a different way of moving, too many legs and too many eyes. Others have argued that their sheer numbers stir something deeper inside our psyches.
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