June 2018

Spiders - do they open your eyes?Spiders - do they open your eyes?

It has long been debated whether arachnophobia is something that's embedded into us as a species or whether we learn it from our culture. Research published by neuroscientist Stefanie Hoehl from the University of Vienna at the end of last year – which monitored pupillary dilation in six-month-old babies when shown images of spiders – suggests the former is to blame. It means the fear and disgust some of us feel when we encounter these critters could actually be a hangover from a survival instinct that evolved in ancient times. Whether true or not, it's a good study to quote when explaining why someone else needs to remove any eight-legged visitors from your home.

The irrational fear of spiders can be distressing for those afflicted with the phobia (note to sufferers: turn these pages with caution). But while it's a widespread condition – affecting around 50% of women and 10% of men – it is by no means at the top of the charts when it comes to common phobias. That accolade goes to social phobia, and more specifically, glossophobia, a fear of public speaking, which impacts around 75% of the population.

I don't mind admitting my own aversion to public speaking and spiders (is it just me or does that invoke an uneasy image, addressing a room full of spiders?). And aside from a couple of weddings and the occasional eviction of an unwanted house guest, I have little to do with either: I'm grateful for the written word as my public communication tool of choice. But if, like those spider-viewing infants, arachnids cause your pupils to dilate, it may be time for some exposure therapy. You could start with images (again, turn these pages with caution) and progress to the real thing. And with over 100 types of spider discovered locally to date, Wanstead has plenty to choose from. Enough surely to open anyone's eyes.