What's so special about slithering serpents? Children and adults rapidly detect snakes based on their simple features

  title={What's so special about slithering serpents? Children and adults rapidly detect snakes based on their simple features},
  author={Vanessa Lobue and Judy S Deloache},
  journal={Visual Cognition},
  pages={129 - 143}
Snakes are among the most common targets of fears and phobias around the world. In visual search tasks, both adults and young children have repeatedly been found to visually detect snakes more rapidly than other kinds of stimuli. An important question that remains unstudied is what accounts for humans’ rapid response to snakes? Here we suggest that specific features of snakes themselves lead to their rapid detection. The results of five experiments suggest that a snake's shape is the crucial… 
Fear in infancy: Lessons from snakes, spiders, heights, and strangers.
This review challenges the traditional interpretation of infants' and young children's responses to three types of potentially "fear-inducing" stimuli-snakes and spiders, heights, and strangers, and proposes that behaviors typically interpreted as "f fearful" really reflect an array of stimulus-specific responses that are highly dependent on context, learning, and the perceptual features of the stimuli.
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Scales drive detection, attention, and memory of snakes in wild vervet monkeys (Chlorocebus pygerythrus)
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Other Types of Studies Showing that Snakes Hold Special Status in Threat Perception
  • N. Kawai
  • Psychology
    The Fear of Snakes
  • 2019
Abundant evidence has shown that human and nonhuman primates have perceptual biases for rapid detection of evolutionarily fear-relevant stimuli (snakes) in terms of threat perception using the visual
The Hidden Snake in the Grass: Superior Detection of Snakes in Challenging Attentional Conditions
An advantage in snake detection is demonstrated under visual conditions known to impede detection of a wide array of common stimuli, for example brief stimulus exposures, stimuli presentation in the visual periphery, and stimuli camouflaged in a cluttered environment.


Detecting the Snake in the Grass
Evidence is reported of enhanced visual detection of evolutionarily relevant threat stimuli in young children using an array of eight distractors to detect snakes in the presence of other kinds of visual stimuli.
Snakes and cats in the flower bed: fast detection is not specific to pictures of fear-relevant animals.
The observation that snakes and spiders are found faster among flowers and mushrooms than vice versa and that this search advantage is independent of set size supports the notion that fear-relevant
And along came a spider: an attentional bias for the detection of spiders in young children and adults.
  • Vanessa Lobue
  • Psychology, Medicine
    Journal of experimental child psychology
  • 2010
Both children and adults detected the presence of spiders more rapidly than both categories of distracter stimuli and there was no difference between the detection of two neutral stimuli (cockroaches vs. mushrooms).
The Malicious Serpent
As reptiles, snakes may have signified deadly threats in the environment of early mammals. We review findings suggesting that snakes remain special stimuli for humans. Intense snake fear is prevalent
Superior detection of threat-relevant stimuli in infancy.
These data provide the first evidence of enhanced visual detection of threat-relevant stimuli in infants and hence offer especially strong support for the existence of a general bias for the Detection of threat in humans.
Snakes, spiders, guns, and syringes: How specific are evolutionary constraints on the detection of threatening stimuli?
  • I. Blanchette
  • Psychology, Medicine
    Quarterly journal of experimental psychology
  • 2006
In three experiments, the efficiency in detecting fear-relevant and fear-irrelevant visual stimuli are compared and the threat-superiority effect was repeatedly found for both types of target.
Snakes as agents of evolutionary change in primate brains.
  • L. Isbell
  • Biology, Medicine
    Journal of human evolution
  • 2006
This work suggests that the evolutionary arms race begun by constrictors early in mammalian evolution continued with venomous snakes, and that Raptors that specialize in eating snakes have larger eyes and greater binocularity than more generalized raptors, and provide non-mammalian models for snakes as a selective pressure on primate visual systems.
Emotion drives attention: detecting the snake in the grass.
Fear-relevant, but not fear-irrelevant, search was unaffected by the location of the target in the display and by the number of distractors, which suggests parallel search for fear-relevant targets and serial search for feared objects.
Abstract stimuli associated with threat through conditioning cannot be detected preattentively.
Studies of anxiety suggest that threat stimuli can be identified preattentively, but this conclusion is questionable because of possible low-level perceptual confounds. Two experiments used visual
The role of fear-relevant stimuli in visual search: a comparison of phylogenetic and ontogenetic stimuli.
It seems that fear relevance in general is more important than is the evolutionary age, and attention toward threatening stimuli is mainly affected by a late component that prolongs the disengagement of attention.