A recent study suggests that people who are afraid of spiders overestimate their size, compared to those who are not afraid of spiders.
Arachnophobia is defined as a pathological fear or loathing of spiders, but how do people with this fear actually perceive spider size? A study published in the journal Biological Psychology has investigated the link between arachnophobia and perception of spider size.
Researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel, in collaboration with the University of Western Ontario, Canada, assessed individuals with a high fear of spiders compared with those who had a low fear of spiders. The participants rated both size and unpleasantness of a variety of animals, including birds, butterflies, wasps, beetles, and spiders. The researchers found that only people who were highly fearful of spiders gave the spiders higher size ratings than they gave for butterflies. However, these individuals did not show a bias when estimating the size of wasps, even though these were considered to be unpleasant insects. The results demonstrate that the misperception of size was directly associated with the fear of the individual.
Lead author of the study, Dr Leibovich says: “This study revealed how perception of even a basic feature such as size is influenced by emotion, and demonstrates how each of us experiences the world in a unique and different way.” In addition, Dr Leibovich points to further questions highlighted by the study: “Is it fear that triggers size disturbance, or maybe the size disturbance is what causes fear in the first place? Future studies that attempt to answer such questions can be used as a basis for developing treatments for different phobias.”
Leibovich, T, Cohen, N, Henik, A. “Itsy bitsy spider?: Valence and self-relevance predict size estimation” Biological Psychology