Are we predisposed to learn to fear sharks?

Teo, Sharlene (2012). Are we predisposed to learn to fear sharks? Honours Thesis, School of Psychology, The University of Queensland.

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Author Teo, Sharlene
Thesis Title Are we predisposed to learn to fear sharks?
School, Centre or Institute School of Psychology
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2012-10-10
Thesis type Honours Thesis
Supervisor Virginia Slaughter
Total pages 58
Language eng
Subjects 1701 Psychology
Abstract/Summary Previously, it has been found that humans have an evolved predisposition to learn to fear evolutionarily threatening animals, such as snakes and spiders. As sharks have been around for over 400 million years, the current study aims to investigate if this effect can be generalised to sharks as well. Specifically, whether humans have a predisposition to learn to fear sharks independent of experiences with sharks. This hypothesis was tested using an auditory-visual matching paradigm, which involved infants to look selectively at a visual display that matched an auditory stimulus. Thirty infants aged 18 months were presented with either a happy or frightened human voice, together with a simultaneous presentation of two side-by-side films, one being a video of a shark and the other of an aquatic or semi-aquatic non-predatory animal. It was predicted that, infants would attend significantly longer to the shark videos when they hear the frightened voice as compared to when they hear the happy voice. Contradictory to the hypothesis, a 2 2 (Animal type [sharks, non-sharks] Vocal emotion [fearful, happy]) repeated measures ANOVA did not find a significant interaction of animals by voice. Instead, infants looked longer at the non-predatory animals regardless of whether they heard a happy or a frightened voice. Despite trying to mitigate this main effect of animals, the results remained unchanged. An aversion argument was then proposed as it was considered that infants might find looking at sharks over an extended time aversive and therefore avert their eyes. Unfortunately, a chi-square test also revealed a similar trend as the previous findings, such that there was no difference in infants‟ first looks towards sharks in the fear and happy voice conditions. Infants looked at the non-sharks first in both vocal emotion conditions. It was speculated perhaps that the effect of sharks might not be as apparent as snakes and spiders as humans have coexisted with the latter two animals for a longer time than they did with sharks.
Keyword Predisposition to learn fear
Evolutionary threatening animals

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Created: Fri, 08 Mar 2013, 14:18:22 EST by Mrs Ann Lee on behalf of School of Psychology