Preparedness & Phobias: BBS Call for Commentators

Stevan Harnad (harnad@PRINCETON.EDU)
Tue, 28 Jun 1994 21:00:51 EDT

This article has been accepted for publication in Behavioral and Brain
Sciences (BBS), an international, interdisciplinary journal providing
Open Peer Commentary on important and controversial current research in
the biobehavioral and cognitive sciences.

Commentators must be current BBS Associates or nominated by a current
BBS Associate. To be considered as a commentator for this article, to
suggest other appropriate commentators, or for information about how to
become a BBS Associate, please send email to: or harnad@pucc.bitnet or write to:
BBS, 20 Nassau Street, #240, Princeton NJ 08542 [tel: 609-921-7771]

To help us put together a balanced list of commentators, please give
some indication of the aspects of the topic on which you would bring
your areas of expertise to bear if you were selected as a commentator.
An electronic draft of the full text is available for inspection by
anonymous ftp according to the instructions that follow after the abstract.


Graham Davey
Psychology Division,
Department of Social Science,
The City University,
Northampton Square,

ABSTRACT Most phobias are focussed on a small number of
fear-inducing stimuli (e.g. snakes, spiders). A review of the
evidence supporting biological and cognitive explanations of this
uneven distribution of phobias suggests that the readiness with
which such stimuli become associated with aversive outcomes arises
from biases in the processing of information about threatening
stimuli rather than from phylogenetically based associative
predispositions or "biological preparedness." This cognitive bias,
consisting of a heightened expectation of aversive outcomes
following fear-relevant stimuli, generates and maintains robust
learned associations between them. Some of the features of such
stimuli which determine this expectancy bias are estimates of how
dangerous they are, the semiotic similarity between them and their
aversive outcomes, and the degree of prior fear they elicit.
Ontogenetic and cultural factors influence these features of
fear-relevant stimuli and are hence important in determining
expectancy bias. The available evidence does not exclude the
possibility that both expectancy biases and specific evolved
predispositions co-exist, but the former can explain a number of
important findings that the latter cannot.

KEYWORDS: Preparedness, phobias, biological preparedness, selective
associations, information processing biases, classical
conditioning, covariation assessment, cross-cultural studies.

To help you decide whether you would be an appropriate commentator for
this article, an electronic draft is retrievable by anonymous ftp from according to the instructions below (the filename is
bbs.davey). Please do not prepare a commentary on this draft.
Just let us know, after having inspected it, what relevant expertise
you feel you would bring to bear on what aspect of the article.
The file is also retrievable using archie, gopher, veronica, etc.
To retrieve a file by ftp from an Internet site, type either:
When you are asked for your login, type:
Enter password as queried (your password is your actual userid:
yourlogin@yourhost.whatever.whatever - be sure to include the "@")
cd /pub/harnad/BBS
To show the available files, type:
Next, retrieve the file you want with (for example):
get bbs.davey
When you have the file(s) you want, type:

These files can also be retrieved using gopher, archie, veronica, etc.
Where the above procedure is not available there are two fileservers:
that will do the transfer for you. To one or the
other of them, send the following one line message:


for instructions (which will be similar to the above, but will be in
the form of a series of lines in an email message that ftpmail or
bitftp will then execute for you).

JANET users without ftp can instead utilise the file transfer facilities
at sites or Full details are available on