A study I read about today supposedly shows that the fear of snakes (and spiders) is "hard-wired", meaning NOT learned, in humans. Now, I firmly believe that this is true in some animals, and am reminded of this every time my big bad 85-lb German Sherpherd, who has never had a traumatic run-in with a snake, runs cowering into the other room when I remove a shed skin from one of the snake cages. But in humans? This study, which unfortunately will not be published until next month so I can only rely on the media, supposedly shows that snake phobia is hard-wired because pre-schoolers and adults alike notice snakes in a montage of other animals much more quickly. Without having read the paper, and shaped by my own experiences, I am not inclined to believe this science is rigorous in theory or practice. By the way, if anyone thinks that pre-schoolers are too young to have already "learned" to fear snakes from TV, listening to their parents, etc., think again. A recent study of 3-5 year olds found that they thought food tasted better if it came in a McDonald's wrapper. I'd say that's pretty good evidence that pre-schoolers have already begun to form opinions about things based on their experience (and advertising!).
Until I am able to read the paper myself, I will share with you why I believe that the fear if snakes is mainly LEARNED in humans. Put plainly, little kids like snakes. No, they LOVE snakes. I had the priviledge of visiting Georgia Brown Elementary School in Paso Robles this week to teach second graders about snakes.
[I had some photos but removed them due to privacy issues- suffice it to say the kids were thrilled and LOVED those snakes!]
Most adults hate snakes. I believe that this is largely a learned behavior, from watching stupid movies like Anaconda and Snakes on a Plane. Even the nature channels on TV, especially Discover Channel, hype up the snake shows to the point where they misrepresent snakes as being aggressive when in reality they're only trying to defend themselves.
Anyway, thanks to Mrs. Knowlton at Georgia Brown for inviting me to hang out with snakes and second graders, my favorite kind of people (that includes the snakes!).