Fears of snakes and spiders are widespread. Scientists think they may have arisen long ago during our evolutionary history, and had a role of protecting us against these dangerous animals that people were meeting far more often than now. However, while these fears can protect us, if they turn into phobias – extreme or irrational fears – they can cause significant distress and interfere with our daily lives, as we struggle to avoid all confrontation with the phobic stimuli.
A new study of over a thousand participants in Hungary has found that people who feel more connected to nature are less likely to be affected by fears or phobias of snakes and spiders.
“Analysis of our 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,” said study co-author Dr. Jakub Polák, a postdoctoral researcher in Psychology at Charles University, Czech Republic.
Dr. Polák and his colleagues assessed participants’ connection to nature using the Nature Relatedness Scale, and rated their fears and phobia through established questionnaires that are used in clinical screenings for these afflictions. 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 phobias. Older age and living in less urbanized environments were also associated with reduced fear of these animals.
According to the scientists, the association found in this study can go both ways. “A connection to nature may cause people to experience less fear of snakes and spiders. 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,” explained study co-author Dr. Carlos Coelho, a researcher at the University of Porto, Portugal.
Regardless of the direction of causality, these findings add to the growing evidence of the positive effects of spending time in nature and feeling connected to it, such as better health, reduced stress, and enhanced mood.
“Connectedness to nature, can have a wide range of positive effects. In our study we find 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,” concluded study lead author Dr András Norbert Zsido, an assistant professor of Psychology at the University of Pécs, Hungary.
The study is published in the journal People and Nature.