Media representation of spiders may exacerbate arachnophobic sentiments by framing a distorted perception of risk

BioRxiv : the Preprint Server for Biology
Stefano MammolaM. Isaia

Abstract

Spiders are able to arouse strong emotional reactions in humans. While spider bites are statistically rare events, our perception is skewed towards the potential harm spiders can cause to humans. We examined the human dimension of spiders through the lens of traditional media, by analysing more than 300 spider-related news published online in Italian newspapers between 2010 and 2020. We observed a recent, exponential increase in the frequency of the news, particularly those focused on medically important spiders - the Mediterranean black widow (Latrodectus tredecimguttatus) and the Mediterranean recluse (Loxosceles refescens). The news quality was generally poor: 70% contained different types of error, 32% were exaggerated, and in virtually none was an expert consulted. Overstated news referring to spider bites were significantly more shared on social media, thus contributing to frame a distorted perception of the risk associated with a spider bite and possibly reducing general public tolerance of spiders.

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