Fear in Infancy: Lessons From Snakes, Spiders, Heights, and Strangers

Vanessa LoBue, Karen E. Adolph

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This review challenges the traditional interpretation of infants' and young children's responses to three types of potentially "fear-inducing" stimuli-snakes and spiders, heights, and strangers. The traditional account is that these stimuli are the objects of infants' earliest developing fears. We present evidence against the traditional account, and provide an alternative explanation of infants' behaviors toward each stimulus. Specifically, we propose that behaviors typically interpreted as "fearful" really reflect an array of stimulus-specific responses that are highly dependent on context, learning, and the perceptual features of the stimuli. We speculate about why researchers so commonly misinterpret these behaviors, and conclude with future directions for studying the development of fear in infants and young children. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1889-1907
Number of pages19
JournalDevelopmental psychology
Issue number9
StatePublished - 2019


  • Anxiety
  • Avoidance
  • Fear
  • Threat
  • Wariness
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Snakes
  • Fear/physiology
  • Learning
  • Animals
  • Spiders
  • Psychological Theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Demography
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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