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Psychol Sci. 2008 Mar;19(3):284-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02081.x.

Detecting the snake in the grass: attention to fear-relevant stimuli by adults and young children.

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University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA 22904, USA.


Snakes are among the most common targets of fears and phobias. In visual detection tasks, adults detect their presence more rapidly than the presence of other kinds of visual stimuli. We report evidence that very young children share this attentional bias. In three experiments, preschool children and adults were asked to find a single target picture among an array of eight distractors. Both the children and the adults detected snakes more rapidly than three types of nonthreatening stimuli (flowers, frogs, and caterpillars). These results provide the first evidence of enhanced visual detection of evolutionarily relevant threat stimuli in young children.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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