Individuals precieved ugliness

A phobia is a common type of anxiety disorder, a phobia is characterised as a persistent fear, and has to have a rapid anxiety response with the initial stress response occurring immediately. The client must recognise that the fear is irrational and try hard to avoid the stimulus. To be clinically classed as a phobia they must find that this affects their life style. There are three types of phobias, these are, social phobias, agoraphobia, and specific phobias. Social phobias are a fear of social situations due to own self consciousness, and fear of others. Agoraphobia is the fear of open or public places. A specific phobia is the phobia of a specific object, commonly animals, such as arachnophobia which is the fear of spiders.

Seligman (1971) introduced his preparedness hypothesis; this proposed that the non-random distribution of fears is caused by an evolutionary predisposition. This evolutionary predisposition means that the modern man has a tendency to react fearfully to stimuli which would have been a threat to prehistoric man (such as snakes, spiders, high places etc); this is not an innate reaction but facilitates acquiring such fears through classical conditioning. Seligman states that it can be merely a mild unconditioned stimulus which can activate this tendency to fear the stimuli of prehistoric mans fears, and that this can result in a highly resistant conditioned fear. The preparedness hypothesis explains why some highly aversive experiences do not result in phobias.

Ohman et al developed a more detailed version of Seligmand preparedness hypothesis, they suggested that there are two evolutionary based fear systems; these are predator defence system and the social submissiveness system. The predator defence system mobilises fear of a stimulus such as spiders or snakes, and is needed as soon as a child can move away from their parents in order to survive, as if they have no fear they could be in danger, for example going towards a snake which could be poisonous and hurt or kill them. Where as the social submissiveness system becomes important during adolescence because this is when social hierarchy is important. Ohman et al also state that animal phobias originate from the predator defence system.

A study into the relationship between fear, and appearance was conducted by Bennett-Levy and Marteau (1984), this study supports Seligman’s preparedness hypothesis. Bennett-Levy and Marteau studied 113 participants which were selected from those who attended a local health centre. They split the participants into two groups. Bennett-Levy and Marteau asked the first group to complete a questionnaire based on their fear of animals, they had to rate the animals as harmful or harmless. The second group completed a questionnaire based on the characteristics and appearance of an animal.

Bennett-Levy and Marteau found that an individual is born with a readiness to fear certain animals, they also found there to be a relationship between the fear of an animal and the appearance of an animal in terms of how the animal differed from the human form, for example number of limbs or skin texture. They also questioned the traditional treatment of phobias, suggesting instead that the key differences must first be treated by de-sensitization of the phobic.

This research was based closely on that of Bennett-Levy and Marteau, the aim of this research was to discover firstly whether or not there was a relationship between an individual’s fear of an animal and their perceived harmfulness of an animal and the ugliness of the animal. The hypotheses for this research were based on the research conducted by Bennett-Levy and Marteau.


1. The more harmful an individual perceives an animal to be the more that they will fear the animal 2. The uglier an animal is perceived to be the more it will be feared by the individual. 3. The correlation between ugly and harm will be weaker than that between harm and fear, and, ugly and fear Null hypothesis 1. There will be no relationship between an individual’s fear of an animal and how harmful they perceive the animal to be. 2. There will be no relationship between an individual’s fear of an animal and how ugly they perceive the animal to be. 3. There will be no correlation between how ugly an individual perceives and animal to be and how harmful they perceive them to be.

Method Design

The design used for this study was a correlation analysis, this design was used as it makes it possible to identify relationships between phobias and stimuli, and makes it possible to research peoples fears as this cannot be researched in any other way which is ethically sound.


A total of 20 participants were studied; the group was a mix of both males and females. All of the participants were college students aged between 16 and 19. The sampling method used to select these participants was an opportunistic sample.


The materials which were used in this investigation to collect data were response sheets, examples of these can be found in the appendix. These response sheets were used by the participants, they had instructions about how to complete the questionnaire and tick boxes with which they were required to rate the animals, for ugliness, harmfulness, and their fear of the animal. Other materials were used include animal picture cards which are included in the appendix and were shown to the participants mostly as prompts but also to provide visual representations of the animals which participants were required to rate.


Participants were asked to take part in research into animal phobias. Each participant was then shown a copy of the animal cards (included in the appendix) as well as being given response sheets these had instructions on how to answer as well as tick boxes with which to rate the animal. There were three response sheets for each participant, (an example of each is included in the appendix), one for harmfulness, one for fear and one for ugliness.

Participants then had to rate each of the animals on a scale of 1-5, one being low and five being high for each. E.g. giving a rating of 1 for harmful means that the animal is perceived to be harmless. Where as if a rating of 5 was given this would mean that the animal is perceived as being very harmful. When the participants had finished filling in all of the response sheets it was fully explained to them by the investigator what they would be doing with the results, saying that they were looking for a relationship between fear and harmfulness, fear and ugliness, and ugliness and harmfulness, we also gave the participants the chance to withdraw from the research.


The data was obtained using response sheets where animals were rated on a scale of 1 to 5, this gave all animals 20 scores for harmful, 20 for ugly, and 20 for fear, the raw data and examples of the response sheets can be found in the appendix. The mean was used as it is an interval or ration level of measurement as it is a measure of central tendency and gives data which can be compared. The mean also gives an average which any anomalies do not drastically affect results, in the way other methods of calculating the central tendencies may. The means for each animal and category can be found in the appendix.

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