Some aspects of human behavior appear to be hardwired. That frequent claim is probably more controversial than it should be, but it looks like neuroscientists have the goods for fear of snakes. They have actually identified the neurons responsible.
This week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team of scientists examines one particularly long-lasting source of fear: snakes. The researchers found that certain neurons in the brain only respond to these legless reptiles. These snake-dedicated neurons, they argue, are a legacy of our distant primate past, when the animals posed one of the greatest threats to our survival.
The new study builds on years of experiments by psychologists. They found that the widespread fear of snakes stems from a perceptual bias: people recognize snakes faster than other objects.