Spiders do effect some people, and my experience is that young people are more likely to accept spiders as just another fascinating animal if given the chance. I suspect a part of arachnophobia is a result of our adult alienation from the beauty of the world, and it is a fact that most serious sufferers are middle aged and older. It is also a fact that 9 out of ten recorded suffers are female. This of course may well reflect our social gender expectations in that men find it much harder to admit to being frightened of anything.
Paul Hillyard reports that when 18,000 children were questioned in the 1950s about the animal they liked least the "Spider" came second with 10% of the vote (Snakes Won). In 1988 the "Spider" was still second but now the "Rat" had slipped into first place. In the USA in the 1980s the
"Cockroach" was a clear winner and "spiders" were way down the list. Theodore Savory analysed the reasons why female school students in England disliked spiders and the 3 most important reasons were spider size, then the black colouration then 3rdly the length of the spiders legs. In the UK nearly
50% of woman and 10% of men admitted to some degree of arachnophobia when questioned. About 3% of people claimed an extreme fear, and the most people claimed some apprehension.
Scientists agree that there are 3 components to a phobia:
- the experience of fear
- physiological responses (sweating, heart-rate etc.)
- motor responses (immobilization or flight)
However there is little agreement as to where the phobias come from. There is some general agreement that many people seem to inherit at least a predisposition towards experiencing arachnophobia and that otherwise it can be conditioned into people, but apart from this there are a large number of unproven theories as to the causes.
The most accepted form of treatment is aversion or behaviour treatments. These tend to involve a mixture of education and experience, most arachnobobes (in fact most people) have little real knowledge of spiders, learning allows the sufferer to use their own mind to
counteract the rising emotions. Familiarisation or experience has a similar effect, giving people the opportunity to gain perceptual evidence of spiders as being basically harmless,
to desensitize them. Although the details of all treatments depend on the therapist as well as on the age and experience of the sufferer a large degree of moral support is essential.