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Posted: October 29, 2013

The brain may be hard-wired to detect snakes

Misha Japaridze
A rare two-headed Californian Kingsnake on exhibition at the Moscow Zoo in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, March 7, 2013. Zoo officials said that the occurrence of two-headed snakes are one in a million and they usually don't survive in the wild. (AP Photo/Misha Japaridze)

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            The brain may be hard-wired to detect snakes
A rare two-headed Californian Kingsnake on exhibition at the Moscow Zoo in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, March 7, 2013. Zoo officials said that the occurrence of two-headed snakes are one in a million and they usually don't survive in the wild. (AP Photo/Misha Japaridze)

By ELIZABETH HAGEDORN

You can quit blaming movies like this for your fear of snakes.

Instead, blame your earliest primate ancestors. (Via New Line Cinema / "Snakes on a Plane"

A group of scientists at the University of California-Davis wanted to test why people find the legless lizards so creepy, even if they’ve never seen one in person. Detecting snakes, they thought, was a trait hard wired by evolution. (Via BBC

To test their theory, they implanted microelectrodes in the brains of two monkeys raised on a farm. The monkeys were shown images of snakes, others monkeys  and various shapes. (Via YouTube / SMCBuki

Since these monkeys had never seen snakes before, any potential response to a snake would not have been the result of memory or learning.

As the researchers predicted, neurons in the part of the brain that controls vision responded faster and stronger to images of the snakes. (Via YouTube / Nature North

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As one of the study’s authors explained: “This part of the visual system appears to be the sort of quicker, automatic visual system that allows us to respond without even being consciously aware of the object that we are responding to.” (Via NPR

The researchers say this supports the theory that primates, including humans, evolved their vision skills over time to detect and react to threats like snakes. (Via National Geographic

Which makes sense — scientists believe the first modern predators of primates — 100 or so million years ago — looked exactly like snakes. (Via YouTube / Animal Wire

The authors say they want to expand their study to test other parts of the brain, as well as the responses to other types of predators. 

- See more at newsy.com.

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