This study focused on human negative emotions (fear and disgust) evoked by animals and aimed to find the most fear- and disgust-eliciting species/morphotypes across the animal kingdom. The examined stimuli included the top-scoring animals from previous experiments (two sets of 34 pictures). These were evaluated by Central European respondents representing WEIRD societies (Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic). The respondents ranked the stimuli according to both elicited emotions. The results show that the most feared animals are mostly large vertebrates, such as carnivorans (bear, lion, tiger, etc.), ungulates (rhinoceros, hippopotamus, etc.), sharks, and crocodiles. Smaller fear-evoking vertebrates are represented by snakes, and invertebrates are represented by spiders and scorpions. The most disgust-evoking animals are human endo- and ectoparasites (e.g., tapeworm and tick) or animals visually resembling them (e.g., earthworm). A deeper understanding of negative emotions and the differences between fear and disgust elicited by animals might also help in nature conservation efforts, so that we know what factors or features may affect a negative attitude toward certain animals.
Animals have always played an important role in our everyday life. They are given more attention than inanimate objects, which have been adaptive during the evolution of mankind, with some animal species still presenting a real threat to us. In this study, we focused on the species usually evaluated as the scariest and most disgusting in the animal kingdom. We analyzed which characteristics (e.g., weight, potential threat for humans) influence their evaluation in a nonclinical Central European WEIRD population (Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic). The tested animals were divided into two separated sets containing 34 standardized photos evoking predominantly one negative emotion, fear or disgust. The pictures were ranked according to their emotional intensity by 160 adult respondents with high inter-rater agreement. The most fear-eliciting species are mostly large vertebrates (e.g., carnivorans, ungulates, sharks, crocodiles), whereas smaller fear-evoking vertebrates are represented by snakes and invertebrates are represented by arachnids. The most disgust-evoking animals are human endo- and ectoparasites or animals visually resembling them. Humans emotionally react to fear-evoking animals that represent a real threat; however, identifying truly dangerous disgust-evoking animals might be harder. The results also support a somewhat special position of snakes and spiders.