17 The "Disgusting" Spider: The Role of Disease and Illness in the Perpetuation of Fear of Spiders Graham C. L. Davey1 THE CITY UNIVERSITY, LONDON Recent studies of spider phobia have indicated thatfearof spiders is closely associated with the disease-avoidance response of disgust. It is argued that the disgust-relevant status of the spider resulted from its association with disease and illness in European cultures from the tenth century onward. The development of the association between spiders and illness appears to be linked to the many devastating and inexplicable epidemics that struck Europe from the Middle Ages onwards, when the spider was a suitable displaced target for the anxieties caused by these epidemics. Such factors suggest that the pervasive fear of spiders that is commonly found in many Western societies may have cultural rather than biological origins, and may be restricted to Europeans and their descendants. One of the most common phobias in Western cultures is fear of spiders (Costello, 1982; Cornelius & Averill, 1983; Kirkpatrick, 1984), and over the past twenty years psychologists have explained this fear by arguing that it is a result of evolutionary selection: that is, since some spiders are venomous, this acted to select
Society & Animals – Brill
Published: Jan 1, 1994
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