Cute or creepy? Study looks at the fright factor for a cavalcade of common critters

October 28, 2019

Researchers in the UK probed peoples feelings about a cavalcade of cute and creepy animals, bugs and more. Here are the most and least frightening and disgusting.

Big brown bats rated in the top four of most fear-inducing animals in the study. We think this bat looks cute. (agarianna / stock.adobe.com)

What do ants, bulls and tapeworms have in common?

Researchers behind a new study shared in the British Journal of Psychology wanted to know how people's feelings about these animals (both fear and disgust) play into animal phobias.

People were asked to evaluate images of 22 animals, insects, arachnids and more, then answer four psychometric questions and a few questionnaires with (frankly) awesome names: the Snake Questionnaire (SNAQ), the Fear Survey Schedule II (FSS), the Spider Questionnaire (SPQ) and the Disgust Scale (DSR).

When you eliminate individuals with clinically diagnosed phobias, only snakes, spiders and parasites evoke intense fear or disgust in the nonclinical population, according to the abstract. The researchers also believe the tendency by those with phobias to overgeneralize fears onto other harmless species from the same category could be used for quick animal phobia detection.

Here's an alphabetical list of the living things respondents scored highest and lowest for fear and disgust:

• Big brown bat (top four for fear)

• Domestic cat (top four least fear-inducing; top four least disgusting)

• Cockroach (top four for disgust; top four for fear)

• Domestic dog (top four least disgusting)

• Fish (top four least fear-inducing)

• Domestic horse (top four least disgusting)

• Head louse (top four for disgust; top four for fear)

• Maggot/black soldier fly larva (top four for disgust)

• Panda/red panda (top four least disgusting)

• Pigeon (top four least fear-inducing)

• Roundworm (top four for disgust)

• Snail (top four least fear-inducing)

• Spider/wolf spider (top four for fear).

Moral of the story? If you want to really scare people this Halloween, dress up as a spider or a cockroach. If you want to disgust folks, dress up as a maggot or a cockroach. Sorry, cockroaches.