Humans have an innate ability to spot snakes, according to University of Virginia researcher Vanessa LoBue.
She asked both adults and children to find a target picture from a set of nine images, these targets were either snakes, flowers, frogs or caterpillars. Both young and old detected the snakes faster than the other three (research abstract).
Snakes … why did it have to be snakes? Here’s why: “Our finding matches with the evolutionary theory that humans have a pre-disposition to quickly identify a snake. Throughout the course of human evolution, humans who could quickly visually detect the presence of snakes were able to survive and reproduce, thereby passing this capability on in the gene pool,” says LoBue (Feb 29th press release; hat tip yesterday’s LiveScience story).
She believes that the three-year olds used in this research wouldn’t have had much negative experiences of snakes and says those with no fear of snakes were just as quick to identify them. This might suggest an inate ability but I’m not entirely convinced it can’t just be explained by exposure to negative portrayals of snakes (the Jungle Book movie anyone?).
Man wins right to keep 50 snakes in his house (WESH)
Cold snakes fall out of trees (Nature)