WHICH FEARS ARE INSTINCTUAL, AND WHICH ARE LEARNED?
Where does fear come from? As the jack-o’-lanterns show their grin- ning, glowing faces and skeletons, cobwebs, and gravestones adorn yards around the neighborhood, it’s a question hanging in many of our minds. When you recoil from the giant mechanical spider suspended above your neighbor’s garage, is that fear instinctual, or is it learned? Many people, spurred on by evolutionary psychology, believe that the fear of creepy crawlies, particularly spiders and snakes, is innate. Certainly, spiders and snakes are among the most common phobias in the world. But research shows that, though humans and apes may be predisposed to easily develop a fear of these poisonous animals, the fears are just that — learned. In a 2016 study, babies were presented with videos of snakes and other animals like elephants, paired with either a fearful or happy auditory track, measuring the babies’ physiological responses when the videos were interrupted by a startling flash of light. Though babies were more interested in the snakes, they weren’t more startled, indicating a lack of fear. According to the Association for Psychological Science, there are only two fears we inherit at birth: the fear of falling and the fear of loud sounds.
A 1960 study, conducted by psychologists Gibson and Walk for Cornell University, sought to investigate depth perception in human and animal species. They suspended a sheet of transparent plexiglass about four feet off the ground and covered one half of it with a checkerboard-pattern cloth, creating a simulated cliff. Infants, both human and animal, were then encouraged by their caregivers, usually their mothers, to crawl off the “cliff” onto the clear half of the platform. Animals and humans alike avoided stepping over what they perceived as a sharp drop, and pre-crawling-age infants showed heightened cardiac distress on the “suspended” side. Coupled with this innate fear of plummeting to the ground is something called the Moro reflex, one of several involuntary reflexes healthy newborn infants have at birth. Often called the “startle reflex,” it occurs when a baby is startled by a loud sound or movement, especially a falling motion. The reflex usually triggers the newborn to lift and spread their arms as if grasping for support, followed by crying. Though the Moro reflex usually disappears at around 5 to 6 months of age, our instinctive aversion to sudden loud noises stays with us throughout our lives.
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After graduating, he came back home for a while and started working. But it didn’t take long before he had a job offer out in Texas that he just couldn’t refuse. So, this 18-year-old kid loaded everything into his girlfriend’s truck and a small trailer and drove off to Bee Cave, Texas, just outside Austin. He lived in a nice trailer park over there for a few months before getting himself an apartment. Jordan is one of the hardest working people I know. He’s the epitome of successfully rising above life’s challenges. With the hardships he’s been through, his accomplishments are remarkable, especially considering he’s had to support himself from such a young age. It’s impressive, and I’m so proud of him. Not everyone is able to overcome adversity and turn their life around and make something of themselves. Last month, our family headed out to Fredericksburg to visit Jordan. We explored Texas and had a blast along the way. I’d love to tell you more, but I’m running out of room here. I’ll give the whole story of the Silva’s Texas trip next month. We had all kinds of fun and learned a lot from exploring various historic sites. I’m excited to tell my readers all about it.
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