One of the many perks of being Spider-Man is that you get a sixth sense that tips you off to oncoming danger by making your head tingle. But apparently, a spider-sense is not just the stuff of superheroes and comic books.
Believe it or not, regular human beings actually have something of a spider-sense, but it's a little bit different. Humans' spider-sense makes them more aware of when one of those eight-legged freaks is near them, even if they're not paying attention to their surroundings, a new study to be published in an upcoming issue of Evolution and Human Behavior finds.
In the study, the scientists asked college students to choose the longest line out of several shown on a computer screen. The subjects performed this task three times, and then they were asked to do it again. However, in addition to the lines, another object flashed on the screen for about 200 milliseconds, as much time as it takes for you to blink.
That second object that appeared on the screen was either an image of a hypodermic needle, a housefly or a spider. More than half of the participants noticed the quick flash of the image of the spider, while less than 15 percent noticed the picture of the hypodermic needle and 10 percent noticed the image of the housefly.
"A central body plus radiating segments — that's the template you need to (turn on) this super-responsive awareness," evolutionary psychologist Joshua New told USA Today regarding the results of his study. "If you're walking around and there's a spider on the ground and a needle, you'd be be more likely to step on the needle than on the spider."
New claimed that we are so vigilant when it comes to spiders because early humans and Homo sapiens lived among highly poisonous spiders as they evolved in Africa that could disable them or even cause death. So humans learned to be very attuned to spiders in their surroundings so they could avoid possible danger.
As you're probably well aware, arachnophobia is a real thing. Doesn't everyone sleep with the lights on when there's a spider in their room just to make sure it doesn't come anywhere near them? Anybody? However, New ruled out a fear of spiders as a reason for why people would be more aware of them. He argued that if that was the case, those who are afraid of spiders would have detected them more quickly than those who weren't scared of them, which did not happen in this study.
So the next time you jump out of your seat because you see a spider web forming in a tiny corner of the room, you can thank evolution for that.