Here is one way to measure people’s fear of spiders. Post flyers seeking individuals who are very afraid of spiders, and who are willing to be paid a small amount of cash to participate in a research project, said project turning out to be the repeated answering of survey questions before and during the following activities:
1 approaching a live spider in an uncovered glass tank, initially standing 12 feet away from the tank.
2 coming right up to the tank and using an eight-inch stick to guide the spider hither and thither for a marathonic two minutes.
3 using a 5.5-inch stick to guide the spider thither and hither during a two-minute eternity.
4 estimating as exactly as possible the spider’s size (by drawing a line on a card “indicating the length of the spider from the tips of its front legs to the tips of its back legs”).…
—So begins this month’s Improbable Research column in The Guardian.