Snakes were probably the first predators of mammals and may have been important agents of evolutionary changes in the primate visual system allowing rapid visual detection of fearful stimuli (Isbell, 2006). By means of early and late attention-related brain potentials, we examined the hypothesis that more early visual attention is automatically allocated to snakes than to spiders. To measure the early posterior negativity (EPN), 24 healthy, non-phobic women watched the random rapid serial presentation of 600 snake pictures, 600 spider pictures, and 600 bird pictures (three pictures per second). To measure the late positive potential (LPP), they also watched similar pictures (30 pictures per stimulus category) in a non-speeded presentation. The EPN amplitude was largest for snake pictures, intermediate for spider pictures and smallest for bird pictures. The LPP was significantly larger for both snake and spider pictures when compared to bird pictures. Interestingly, spider fear (as measured by a questionnaire) was associated with EPN amplitude for spider pictures, whereas snake fear was not associated with EPN amplitude for snake pictures. The results suggest that ancestral priorities modulate the early capture of visual attention and that early attention to snakes is more innate and independent of reported fear.

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Keywords Early posterior negativity (EPN), Evolution, Late positive potential (LPP), Snake fear, Spider fear
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Journal Biological Psychology
van Strien, J.W, Eijlers, R, Franken, I.H.A, & Huijding, J. (2014). Snake pictures draw more early attention than spider pictures in non-phobic women: Evidence from event-related brain potentials. Biological Psychology, 96(1), 150–157. doi:10.1016/j.biopsycho.2013.12.014