Tackling a spider phobia could be as simple as learning to tolerate anxiety, an academic says after a poll showed spiders were among Australians' biggest fears.
Snakes (30 per cent) and spiders (17 per cent) were among the leading fears for 1079 adults asked to select their top fear from a list of 10.
While air travel, bees, wasps and the dentist can strike fear into some, all were viewed as less scary than heights (13 per cent), sharks (11 per cent) and cybercriminals (10 per cent).
The survey commissioned by McAfee also suggested a quarter of Aussies worry about getting hacked and/or tracked by the government and businesses in their day-to-day life.
But still, animals - and the associated pain or death - still cause the most fear.
Associate Professor Melissa Norberg, who helps people overcome arachnophobia, says humans fear certain things because they're associated with something else that naturally elicits a response.
However, many people who fear spiders have never been bitten.
"This may be because individuals can learn associations simply by hearing about associations (Spiders in Australia may kill you) or by witnessing someone else's reactions (seeing your sister bitten by the spider)," the deputy director of Macquarie University's Centre for Emotional Health told AAP in an email.
Prof Norberg said fear expectancies are likely not developed by nature but from being told more often that snakes and spiders are dangerous than other stimuli rarely associated with phobias.
She said anxious individuals often fear being out of control, with most arachnophobes believe touching a spider will send them into a spin or even cause death.
Her team works with arachnophobes - initially getting them into the same room as the eight-legged creatures before progressing within hours to touching one.
"To overcome a spider phobia - or any phobia for that matter - people need to learn that they can tolerate anxiety and fear,' Assoc Prof Norberg said.
"Exposure therapy is the only scientifically supported treatment for phobias and it works quickly."
McAfee Asia Pacific chief technology officer Ian Yip says those frightened of cybercrime can allay their concerns by following simple steps such as stopping autofill on Chrome, using a password manager and thinking before they click on email links.
"Australia is a mature market when it comes to mobile technologies, making it a natural target for cybercriminals looking to cash in on our high rate of smartphone usage," he said.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton in 2018 said cybercrime cost Australians more than $1 billion each year.
Australian Associated Press
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