Aug 19, 2011  •  In Personal, Scary, Science

True or False?

I once read in a book that all humans are born with three innate fears:

  1. The fear of darkness
  2. The fear of heights/falling
  3. The fear of reptiles

Now, this was a fiction title so I cannot verify the validity of the statement. But the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. Because while we may grow out of these fears, but I have not yet come across one person who never feared these things as a young child.

Can any of my readers refute this statement? For instance, can anyone remember ever not being fearful of snakes?

Can anyone who has experience in psychology confirm or disprove this theory?

21 Responses to “True or False?”

  1. I was afraid of the dark as a young child, but as I got a little older I grew out of it. However, I realized that if I pretended to still be afraid of the dark, my parents would leave the hall light on and I could do some illegal post-bedtime reading.

  2. Becs:

    I was actually never afraid of snakes or reptiles, at least not that I can remember. My dad and I used to chase snakes whenever we saw one. (Yeah I was a huge tomboy.) My first pet was an iguana and my first job was at a reptile zoo where I held a large python around my neck all day.

    I do remember being afraid of the dark and heights though.

    • Abigail:

      Ditto this. I grew up on a farm, and in an area where there are no dangerous snakes, so my siblings and I used to catch them for fun. I have a picture of myself as a 10-year-old tomboy, holding a snake and grinning – used to freak out city friends with it. ;)

      But I’ve always been afraid of the dark and of heights, and the latter especially still scares me. :P

  3. I was definitely scared of all those things. Sometimes I still am. :/

  4. My daughter is 19 months old and she’s not afraid of the dark. We don’t use a night light and even when we go to our cabin (which doesn’t even have electricity) there isn’t even ambient light. She doesn’t seem to mind.

    I think kids learn to be afraid because of the way their parents react.

    As for heights, she is wary of the high spots at the playground. I seem to remember ready somewhere, but can’t think of where, that toddlers have a sense of their abilities and only take calculated risks. So while they may not be afraid, per se, they may be sensibly cautious. My daughter loves if I hold her up over my head, push her high on the swings, or throw her onto the bed.

    As for reptiles- my toddler had no trouble with a horseshoe crab in the touch tank at the aquarium once she saw me touching it.

    I think it’s a matter of what they are exposed to and how the adults around them react. For instance if there was a parent petrified of dogs, what are the chances they’d have a little kid who loved dogs?

  5. Jan:

    I was not afraid of anything as a child. Now I am scared of heights

  6. My sons have never been afraid of snakes or reptiles of any kind. They’re obsessed with them. ;-) My 7yo boy used to be afraid of big dogs, but never snakes.

  7. Meghan:

    I have been studying psychology and development for 8 years. Although I am no expert, my research leads me to believe that these fears are learned. A couple of years ago National Geographic listed a small study about how babies were not afraid of snakes (this is also true about monkeys, there are studies available to read). We are social creatures, therefore, we learn how to react to things in nature based on how we see others reacting. If those around us do not act fearful neither will we.

  8. I’m not afraid of heights and can’t remember ever being afraid of them, but I’d believe that in general fear of falling and fear of the dark are somewhat instinctual – I think humans have a strong will to survive, and we are usually afraid of things that seem dangerous.

    But, then I don’t know why babies often grab hot things, so maybe not…

  9. Interesting! I know I was scared of all of those things as a child! Still terrified of snakes/most reptiles!

  10. I’ve never been afraid of heights or the dark as far as I remember, but I do remember my younger brother being afraid of the dark when he was very young. As for reptiles, I know for a fact that I’m way more afraid of them now than I was as a child. I remember playing with snakes in class and being excited by reptiles at the zoo. Now, they give me the heebie jeebies. :-P

    As for the theory that fear are learned, I was all ready to get on board with that until I remembered my mother. My mom has an incredibly strong fear of dogs, but neither I nor my brothers learned that fear. In fact, all three of us *love* dogs. It’s possible you could contribute that to the fact that my dad doesn’t fear dogs; but I have many memories of my mother screaming and running from dogs, and none of my dad being kind to them. Usually he’s the one calming my mom down. :-P On the same token, my aunt and uncle love dogs. Their niece who lived with them had a small, extremely well trained toy poodle who lived in the house until she moved out. Their toddler son is seriously afraid of dogs. If fears are learned by studying reaction, how do you explain a child fearing dogs when he was exposed to a very tame dog at a young age and even now is constantly exposed to parents who do not fear dogs?

    I’ve never thought about these things before. Very interesting.

  11. Hannah:

    I’ve actually never been afraid of snakes or heights! However, I don’t fare so well with bugs, specifically spiders…

  12. I was scared of the dark, but not of falling or reptiles. Perhaps my fear sense was out of whack though :)

  13. Oh too funny… I actually JUST yesterday finished up a book on animal behavior and it covered these exact things! Fear of darkness is definitely instinctual for humans (a defense mechanism since our night vision is crap, making us more vulnerable). Fear of heights is also documented in baby humans and across mammal species. The book also said (same as Meghan above!) that reptile fear is taught socially… They did this study where they showed wild chimps photos of snakes and they freaked the eff out, then did the same thing to chimps raised in labs and they didn’t bat an eye. BUT when they combined the chimps and the lab ones saw the wild ones going nuts, they replicated the behavior in future showings. CRAZY! Sorry… OMG… I hope this wasn’t really obnoxious… I couldn’t help chiming in, I love this stuff!!! : )

  14. I was scared of the dark as a child, but not of heights. As I’ve gotten older, being scared of heights has become one of my greatest fear yet I am no longer scared of the dark. I cannot ever remember a time when I was scared of any type of reptile or amphibian. One of my earliest memories is actually fishing with my family and walking over a beaver dam that started crawling with snakes. I remember my mom screaming and freaking out and I was standing with my dad thinking, “What’s the big deal?”

  15. Jordy:

    There is a zoo keeper at the spider section of London Zoo that told my kids and I that babies are born with a fear of falling and loud noises, all other fears are learnt behaviour.

  16. I wasn’t afraid of reptiles. Growing up rural will do that for you though. My mom was horrified I always wanted to pick everything up! Lizards, snakes, you name it!! I did have a night light for darkness though. I can’t remember a fear of heights/falling until I got older.

  17. Yep, I was/still scared on all 3 counts. Maybe more. o__o;;

  18. Just to chime in with an odd fact about most cases that involve a fear of heights.

    More people are afraid of heights between 10 and 35 feet than any other height. I believe the statistical average is 25 feet. However over those heights people tend to calm down again, it has something to do with precieved damage. For whatever reason, falling 25 feet and breaking a leg is considered more painful, than falling 500 feet…

    Can’t place the study, but I know we talked about it in one of my physics classes.

    That being said, loved snakes and reptiles as a kid, can’t stand snakes now. Love heights, too much at times. But I did fear the dark until I was 7 or so. Then I discovered stars and light polution., and decided the world needed to be a bit darker agai so I could look into space a bit more conviently.

  19. I was never scared of reptiles, and from the stories it doesn’t sound like I was scared of heights (climbing too high in trees, climbing tops of swingsets to then jump off them). I wasn’t a fan of the dark though, and I REALLY wasn’t a fan of the dark basement.

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