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Description: As I write this it is October 31 and thus Halloween in a very different social space and time than previous All Hallows Eves. I am not going to try and make a case for how hard it will be for children to survive without their annua blast of cheap treats (they will be fine). I would like you to think about why it is that creepy crawly things like bugs, spiders and snakes are so, well, creepy. Those to decorate their yards for Halloween do not use versions of cute puppies or kittens. What is it about the creepy stuff that creeps us out? Think about that for a moment and then read the linked article that talk about some of the research into, likely at least some, of what your are already considering for your hypothesizing about this question.

Source: Have a Creepy, Crawly Halloween, Judy Mandell, At Home, The New York Times.

Date: October 31, 2020

Photo Credit:  Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

Article Link:

At a deep visceral, likely genetic, level we find bugs and creepy crawlers creepy and disgusting. How was this laid down into our genes? Well, simply survival of the fittest is the usual argument. Imagine how long a person would last in an environment rife with poisonous snakes if they thought that snakes were cute and cuddly? Not long, right? Well, think of it this way, it is likely that anyone with those tendencies would be removed from the gene pool by the very things they find cute and cuddly before they are able to reproduce and pass those dodgy genes along. Likewise, bugs, worms, etc. tend to be found in places ripe with bacteria (damp, unclean) and so for the same reasons those that are reticent about or who find such things disgusting were more likely to survive and reproduce and, by extension, produce us. The fact we see evidence of this in the pupil dilation of young infants supports this nicely, they show it before they could have learned it so it must be wired in. It IS interesting that there is cultural variation in this. I visited a bug market in Shanghai a few years ago and saw that for some bugs (crickets most notably) many people were able to get past their fears and creepy feelings. I was amazed by the large numbers of people sitting near one stall or another opening screw-top tin after tin and probing something inside the tins with a piece of straw. I found out that each tin contained a small c ricket and they were testing its “character” looking for promising acquisitions to their cricket pet array. We are quite a species are we not?

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What is it that makes some things, like bugs, worms, spider, and snakes creepy?
  2. How are the feelings of disgust that many have with creepy things developed or learned?
  3. Some have suggested that insects may actually serve as a very good, sustainable source of protein (yes, we would eat them). Given this article what would you do to make it possible to effectively market insects as food?

References (Read Further):

Fears, R. A. S. T. (2018). Chapman University Survey of American Fears. Link

Hoehl, S., Hellmer, K., Johansson, M., & Gredebäck, G. (2017). Itsy bitsy spider…: Infants react with increased arousal to spiders and snakes. Frontiers in psychology, 8, 1710. Link or Press Release

It is not fear of bugs, it is disgust. Link

Oaten, M., Stevenson, R. J., & Case, T. I. (2009). Disgust as a disease-avoidance mechanism. Psychological bulletin, 135(2), 303. Link

Prokop, P. (2016). Universal Human Fears. TK Shackelford, VAWeekes-Shackelford Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science Cham: Springer International Publishing. Link

Gerdes, A. B., Uhl, G., & Alpers, G. W. (2009). Spiders are special: fear and disgust evoked by pictures of arthropods. Evolution and Human Behavior, 30(1), 66-73. Link

Muris, P., Merckelbach, H., de Jong, P. J., & Ollendick, T. H. (2002). The etiology of specific fears and phobias in children: a critique of the non-associative account. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 40(2), 185-195. Link

Rottman, J. (2014). Evolution, development, and the emergence of disgust. Evolutionary Psychology, 12(2), 147470491401200209. Link

Rozin, P., & Haidt, J. (2013). The domains of disgust and their origins: Contrasting biological and cultural evolutionary accounts. Trends in cognitive sciences, 17(8), 367-368. Link

Curtis, V., De Barra, M., & Aunger, R. (2011). Disgust as an adaptive system for disease avoidance behaviour. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 366(1563), 389-401. Link