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Saturday, September 05, 2009


The BBC offer a solution to an age-old mystery by reporting research published in the New Scientist, that suggests that women have a genetic aversion to dangerous animals, such as spiders.

The research says women are born with character traits that were ingrained in our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Researchers say that as child protectors, they have to shun animals that threaten them or their young off-spring. Previous research suggested women were actually up to four times more likely to be afraid of creatures like spiders:

The new research was headed up by developmental psychologist, Dr David Rakison, from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, 10 baby girls, and 10 baby boys were subjected to a number of pictures of spiders to gauge their reactions.

First the babies were shown a picture of a spider with a fearful human face, followed by images of a spider paired with a happy face - alongside an image of a flower twinned with a fearful face.

The results showed that the girls - some as young as 11 months old - looked longer at the picture of the happy face with a spider than the boys, who looked at both images for an equal time.

The researchers concluded that the young girls were confused as to why someone would be happy to be twinned with a spider, and were quick to associate pictures of arachnids with fear.
The boys, it seems, remained totally indifferent emotionally.

Mr Rakison attributes this genetic predisposition to behavioural traits inherent in our hunter-gatherer ancestors.

Men, he purports, were the greater natural risk takers, the ones who took greater risks were more successful when going out to hunt for food.

With women, in their role as natural child protectors, it made sense for them to be more cautious of animals such as snakes or spiders, Mr Rakison adds.

By contrast, the research concludes that modern phobias such as the fear of hospitals - or that of flying - show no differences between the sexes.

Previous research has shown that almost 6% of people have a phobia of snakes, with nearly 4% scared of spiders.

However, of that percentage, four times are likely to be women than men.

Do these scientists actually get grants for this sort of research?
It ill-serves a politician to express surprise at the fact of funding for, and usefulness of, work other people do.

Relating this study to your interests should be easy enough. A major and foolish difference between the Left and Right is the degree to which our differences and apparent predispositions are innate or the product of socialisation, and what that might imply for public policy.

For example: there's a higher %ge of boys in university maths courses. Does that imply some sort of educational sexism? And if there is a real, innate, between-group difference, could that be remediated and should we compensate for it somehow? A very real question, as this year's GCSE results have shown, with boys outperforming girls at Maths now the coursework element has been abolished.

You could, if you wish, continue promoting social policies regardless of research and evidence.
David, you are absolutely right. It was a throwaway remark and I in no way meant to denigrate the important work that science does.
AAAAAAAAAAARGH evolutionary psychology and the press regurgitating its spewings! I HATE IT.

Tiny sample size. Flawed methodology. Conclusion reached before experiment starts.

This is not science, it's sexist bollocks dressed up as science.
I suspect some rather heavy irony from you there, Peter.
There was none
Never ceases to amaze me that articles about arachnophobia have to be illustrated with big pictures of hairy-legged arachnids! Is it some law we ordinary mortals don't know about? ;)

Fact is arachnophobia does mess with people's peace of mind, so studying it is legit.

We're in the middle of a massive surge in the insect population in Britain, and I bet you more people have been sent into a state of physical fear today (increased heartbeat, adrenaline, shakes etc) by an arachnid than by crime here in the UK.
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