Understanding the Fear of Spiders

Spider, close up
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Not many people like spiders. And when many people see one, they will have some sort of reaction from trying to kill the spider to running from it.

While arachnophobia, or fear of spiders, is one of the most common specific phobias, not everyone who dislikes spiders suffers from this phobia.

Those with arachnophobia will go to great lengths to ensure that they are not exposed to a spider. They may be unwilling to participate in activities, such as hiking or camping, that carry a heightened risk of exposure to spiders.

Symptoms of Arachnophobia

If you have arachnophobia, you will probably go out of your way to ensure that you do not come into contact with a spider. If you find a spider in your home, you may react in one of two ways: either screaming and running away or freezing in place. You may be unable to kill or trap the spider yourself, relying on a friend or family member to rescue you from the situation. If you are alone, you may actually leave the house rather than deal with the spider.

Eventually, you may find yourself limiting your activities in an effort to avoid spiders. Hiking and camping trips may be difficult or impossible for you. You may even dread visiting the zoo or participating in sports that involve being outside in a field.

Causes of Arachnophobia

Experts are still uncertain what causes arachnophobia. There a few theories, though. One of the most common theories was put forth by evolutionary psychologists.

This view suggests that arachnophobia was a survival technique for our ancestors. Since most spiders are venomous, although most do not pose a threat to humans, a fear of spiders may have made humans more likely to survive and reproduce.

Other psychologists argue that many animals were more likely to pose a threat to ancient humans, from tigers to crocodiles.

Yet phobias of those animals are not that common. Therefore, those psychologists feel that arachnophobia is more likely based on cultural beliefs about the nature of spiders.

Treating Arachnophobia

Like all specific phobias, arachnophobia is most commonly treated with therapy, particularly cognitive-behavioral techniques. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) focuses on stopping the negative automatic thoughts that are associated with the feared object or situation, replacing them with more rational thoughts instead.

Techniques used may include:

Some newer research has shown that virtual reality therapy, in which the sufferer is exposed to virtual representations of spiders, may work as well as the older technique of gradually exposing the client to live spiders.

In some cases, antidepressant or anti-anxiety medications may also be used to treat arachnophobia.

More on Phobias:


Bouchard S, Côté S, St-Jacques J, Robillard G, Renaud P. “Effectiveness of virtual reality exposure in the treatment of arachnophobia using 3D games.” Technol Health Care. 2006. 14:1. pp. 19-27. June 28, 2008.

Ohman, Arne, Mineka, Susan. “Fears, Phobias, and Preparedness: Toward an Evolved Module of Fear and Fear Learning.” Psychological Review. 2001. 108:3. pp. 483-522. June 28, 2008.

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