Bennet-Levy and Marteau (1984)

Context and Aims

Evolutionary psychology suggest phobias are once adaptive behaviour which helped our ancestors to survive. If we are extremely fearful of an animal and we try to get away from it we are less likely to get hurt by it. The fear that were important to the survival of out ancestors may lie dormant in our brain.

Seligman(1971) believe that humans are biologically predisposed to fear certain a animals such as snake. He found that two to four small electric shocks were enough to induce a phobia to pictures of spiders or snakes but many more were needed to induce a phobia to pictures of flowers. This supports idea of classical conditioning      

Mineka et al(1980) conducted research by giving lab monkeys and wild monkeys real, toy, and model snakes. Found that wild monkeys showed considerable fear of real, model and you snakes whereas lab monkeys showed mild response to snakes. Concluded observational conditioning is involved in the original of primates fears and phobias. 

BL&M challenged this finding as they claim that the lab monkeys showed the most fear of real snakes and that this was because the real snake showed significant amount of movement. BL&M suggested that monkeys have a prepared template to fear certain snakes but they may be prepared to fear snake like movements.

BL&M aimed to investigate if human beings are biologically prepared to fear certain stimulus configurations in small harmless animals such as rapid or abrupt movement and the discrepancy from the human form. BL&M predicted the characteristics of the animals would relate to the distribution of ratings of fear and avoidance of these animals 


BL&M sample was 113 participants attending a British health centre(59 female & 54 males) The participants were gained through opportunity sampling. Participants were asked to fill in one of the two questionnaires. Both provided quantitative data and were distributed randomly.     

Group one completed questionnaire 1 and there were 64 participants(34 females and 30 males) a Group two completed questionnaire 2 and had 49 participants(25 females and 24 males) with a mean age of 35.1 year. Both questionnaires asked about the same 29 species of animals.  

Participants were instructed that they should imagine that some animals are hard to pick up in reality, they should assume the animals have been injured so is easier to pick up. They were told that all were not harmful even though some included seen as dangerous such as jellyfish         

Questionnaire 1 assessed participants fear and avoidance of the 29 animals. Fear measured on 3 point likert scale and avoidance on a 5 point likert scale. This questionnaire measured phobias.            

Questionnaire 2 asked about characteristics of the species. A 3 point likert scale was used. They were asked to rate each species on ugliness, sliminess, speediness and suddenness of movement.

After the questionnaire the participants took part in an informal interview to obtain detailed qualitative data to see what the


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