A study of over a thousand people has found for the first time that people who feel more connected to nature are less likely to be affected by a fear of or phobia to snakes or spiders. In the study, researchers used clinically established questionnaires to assess participants’ fear of snakes and spiders and their connectedness to nature. They found that people who scored highly in their self-perceived connection to nature – particularly a longing to be close to nature and engagement to protect it – were less likely to score highly in measures of snake and spider fear.
The researchers say that because of this association, a connection to nature could potentially be a protective factor against snake and spider phobias, two of the most prevalent animal phobias. Analysis of this data showed one clear picture: the more you like nature and feel a part of it, the less you are at risk of developing a snake or spider phobia, an anxiety disorders which can significantly lower your quality of life. However, it is also possible that people with lower fear of snakes and spiders are consequently more interested in nature and feel a stronger connection with the natural environment. The researchers also collected demographic data from the participants and found older age and living in less urbanized environments were also associated with reduced fear of snakes and spiders.
The study findings add to the growing evidence of the positive effects from spending time in nature and feeling connected to it, such as improved health, enhanced mood, and reduced stress. Connectedness to nature, can have a wide range of positive effects. In the study the research team found that it may prevent the development of animal phobias or could facilitate coping with such fear if they already exist. It’s also been shown that being connected to nature carries health benefits and can result in more knowledge and a more positive attitude towards animals, along with greater environmental responsibility.
Fear of snakes and spiders are thought to stem from threats in our evolutionary history. While these fears can protect us, having a phobia – an extreme or irrational fear – can cause significant distress and interfere with a person’s day-to-day life as they try to avoid all confrontation with the phobic stimulus.
The researchers are now hoping to explore whether their findings would be the same for other animal phobias or apply to other cultures around the world. Understanding what causes animal phobias to persist also interests the researchers. The researchers added: “We would like to know why some people never seem to leave behind their fears, even if they have a lot of experience with the object that evokes the feeling. Is this due to the nature of the stimuli itself, or maybe to individual differences?”
Source: British Ecological Society