PY2 Bennett-Levy and marteau- Fear of animals: What is Prepared?

  • Created by: Hannah
  • Created on: 04-05-11 19:46

Bennett- Levy and Marteau

Aim and Context

Animal Phobias are common in all cultures, some phobias being more prevalent than other such as arachnophobia (phobia of spiders). Even when animal is known to be harmless people still develop phobias, this has led to a view that humans are biologically prepared to develop certain animals phobias. Seligman based this idea on evolution, that we have become equipped with a mechanism to aid survival, to make us fear and avoid certain species. Evidence that suggests this could be a possiblity:

  • Distribution of animal phobias is not random with some animal phobias more common than others
  • People with phobia often have no direct experience of animal they fear
  • Onset of phobias is not random, usually peaking around the age of 4

When patients describe what they fear about the animal it is nearly always the animals perceptual characteristics, even though the patient may know the animal is harmless the thought of it still scares them.

Both Gray and Seligman proposed that humans are biologically prepared to fear certain animals and that evidence suggests fear of some animals may be innate. Ohman et al conditioned a fear in volunteer students using prepared and unprepared stimuli. The unprepared stimuli was something harmless and fear irrelevant unlike the prepared stimuli which had a fear response. The prepared group were shown pictures of spiders and snakes whereas the unprepared group were shown pictures of houses and flowers, these pictures were followed by a brief electric shock. The prepared group learn to fear the pictures quickest and it took longer to get a fear response in the unprepared group.

Bennett- Levy and marteau aimed to see if humans are prepared to fear characteristics different from human form and test if perceptual characteristics can be correlated with a desire to avoid these animals, and lastly to explain why distribution of phobias is not random.


A non-experimental method was used to collect the data, questionnaires were completed by participants and then correlated to establish and significant relationships. 113 participants from a local health centre were asked to fill in one of two questionnaires. In both questionnaires it was made clear that animals listed were not harmful.

Group 1 consisted of 64 participant, 34female, 30 male. The questionnaire was designed to measure self- reported fear and avoidance of 29 animals on two scales. Fear scale, 3 point scale of how afraid participants were of animal (1=not afraid, 2=quite afraid,3=very afraid) Scale of nearness, 5 point scale of how near participant would go to it from 1= enjoy picking it up…


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