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Does women's greater fear of snakes and spiders originate in infancy?
Previous studies with adult humans and non-human animals revealed more rapid fear learning for spiders and snakes than for mushrooms and flowers. The current experiments tested whether 11-month-olds show a similar effect in learning associative pairings between facial emotions and fear-relevant and fear-irrelevant stimuli. Consistent with the greater incidence of snake and spider phobias in women, results show that female but not male infants learn rapidly to associate negative facial emotions with fear-relevant stimuli. No difference was found between the sexes for fear-irrelevant stimuli. The results are discussed in relation to fear learning, phobias, and a specialized evolved fear mechanism in humans.