The Infested Mind: Why Humans Fear, Loathe, and Love Insects

Posted on November 23, 2013

Salvador Dalí, the surrealist painter, was so afraid of grasshoppers that he jumped from a second-floor window at the sight of one. The 19 million Americans who suffer from insect phobias can relate, and I count myself among them. Lockwood suffered his own debilitating bout of grasshopper phobia after encountering a seething swarm, “a bristling carpet of wings and legs.” But unlike most entomophobes, Lockwood has made a scientific career of studying grasshoppers.

In The Infested Mind, Lockwood shifts from entomology to psychology to examine the fascination that first drew him to insects and the terror that later repelled him. His exploration of our complex relations with these critters makes for an engrossing book. For the entomophobic reader especially, the experience is at times thrilling (watch out for the photos!) and therapeutic.

Entomophobes endure “a remarkable inner world of faulty reasoning, distorted perceptions, and selective perspectives,” Lockwood writes. Yet even those without full-blown phobias share some level of fear and disgust toward insects and other “bugs” such as spiders and centipedes. Lockwood dissects the many ways these creepy-crawlies make us shudder and gag. Fear is a reaction to present danger. We are afraid of erratic motion (scurrying cockroaches) and alien features (exoskeletons, too many limbs). Disgust is a protective response against contamination, both physical and psychological. We are disgusted by morbid associations (maggots), excess fecundity (swarming locusts) and the invasion of our body (parasitic worms).

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Source material from Scientific American