So it may comfort those suffering from arachnophobia that the fear of spiders may in fact just be an "evolved predator recognition mechanism," suggest two academics in the April edition of the journal Cognition.
David H. Rakison of Carnegie Mellon and Jaime Derringer at the University of Minnesota conducted several experiments to determine if infants are predisposed to recognize spiders, a recognition they hypothesize would identify creepy-crawlies as something to avoid as potentially harmful (and not just generally icky). Five-month-olds were shown schematic and actual pictures of spiders in three experiments, and of a "non-threatening biological organism"—a flower—in another. Based on how long the tots looked at the spiders, the academics determined that they had a "perceptual template" for spiders and presumably other "fear-relevant stimuli" like snakes.
It's not the first time somebody has suggested this—Swedish psychologist Arne Öhman tried out something similar at the Karolinska Institute a few years ago—but this latest research is looking at freshly minted humans, not grad students.
"Has evolution provided humans with a means to identify these animals so that a fear response for them can be quickly acquired?" they ask. In short, the answer is yes, and furthermore that it's OK to be a big baby about it.