Intuition is a hard thing to describe. Some call it a gut feeling, others fall back on surplus senses, but wherever you feel it you’ve likely had thoughts come to you in life of an innate origin. A new study published in the journal PLOS One investigated if participants' assumptions on the realistic threat of different snake species held any water and found that more often than not our brains get it right.
To test human’s intuition, the study gathered a group of participants and showed them photos of 10 snake species, encompassing a variety of venomous and non-venomous nope-ropes. They measured the response of the participants using sensors that could detect heart rate and sweating to ascertain the fear response and found that venomous snakes consistently triggered the participants’ fear-o-meters significantly more often than the impressive-looking but non-venomous snakes.
Back in the day when we were but primates and early humans, venomous snakes were a big problem. The researchers on the study suggest that a co-evolution between snakes and primates-come-humans has armed us with an innate knowledge of when it’s safe to boop the snoot and when to get the heck out of dodge. Viper images were used in the study as vipers are responsible for more of the deaths from venomous snakebites worldwide and so represent a strong selective pressure. They also have a characteristic zig-zag pattern, which whilst being recognizable to human eyes actually helps the vipers to communicate and escape.
While they describe human’s ability to discriminate between dangerous and harmless snakes as “remarkable”, the researchers note that there were significant differences between participants. Those who had a fear of snakes showed much stronger, long-lasting fear responses to the venomous snakes compared to those who were fond of snakes.
So, if you’re faced with a snake and your danger-noodle-sense is tingling, it might be worth paying attention. When in doubt, this snake-identifying app might come in handy.