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Venom, speed and caution

This study was the first in what I hope will become a productive line of research. It has been shown many times that people preferentially allocate visual attention towards those objects in a visual display that may represent a threat, such as spiders or snakes. This is typically demonstrated using visual search tasks in which people's reaction time to locate threatening images is faster than the time it takes them to locate non-threatening images.  In this study, I developed a novel visual search protocol and demonstrated, for the first time, that not only do people locate threatening targets more quickly, they are also more cautious when searching for threatening targets, taking longer to decide a spider is absent from a display than to decide a beetle is absent.  Additionally this study demonstrated that the level of caution expressed increases for lethal compared to non-lethal spiders, and increases even further if the spiders are pictured on a person's hand, implying an even more imminent threat.