Arachnophobes Think Spiders Are Bigger Than They Really Are

The more afraid of spiders you are, the bigger they seem to be

Colin Schultz

Many of us are not so fond of spiders, with their multiple eyes and creepy-crawly legs. But some of us get it worse. For arachnophobes, spiders aren't just unsettling or gross; they're petrifying. Seeing a spider, or even a picture of a spider, sends arachnophobes' hearts racing and paralyzes their bodies with fear. In 2012, a team of psychologists discovered an unfortunate aspect of arachnophobia: the more scared you are of spiders, the bigger the spider looks to you.

In a study, people who self-described as afraid of spiders were made to repeatedly come in close proximity to a series of tarantulas. They then had to draw down on a sheet how big the spider was, tip to tip, says Marc Abrahams in the Guardian. Using a separate assessment of arachnophobia, the researchers found the relationship between fear and perceived size.

Psychologist Jeremy Dean, writing for his site PsyBlog, says that people who are afraid of spiders also misjudge their distance: “people who are afraid of spiders perceive them as closer, if they come towards them.”

It is possible to train away arachnophobia, though you probably wouldn't enjoy it. The preferred method is to just hang around with a bunch of spiders until you get used to it. If that's too much, you can look at virtual reality representations of spiders. If that is too much, you can look at vaguely spider-y things and work your way from there.

In other news, urbanization actually is making spiders bigger, so there's that.

Get the latest stories in your inbox every weekday.