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“Jaws” made people so afraid of sharks, scientists say

Scientists in California believe the 1975 classic film “Jaws” ushered in a generation of galeophobics — people with an irrational fear of sharks.

Psychologist Gabriella Hancock, who works with the Shark Lab at California State University Long Beach, believes many people’s fear of sharks is learned and influenced by popular media.

“We’re not inherently afraid of sharks,” she told CBS News. “Five-month-old babies weren’t afraid of sharks. So it seems like our fear of them is learned and socially reinforced.

“What we’re finding is that popular media in particular is influencing people’s attitudes and perceptions in ways that exaggerate the danger these animals pose,” Hancock said.

Most research has shown that sharks will not attack humans unless provoked or threatened. “In fact, when you walk towards a shark, they tend to walk the other way,” Shark Lab director Chris Lowe told CBS News.

“Your chances of winning Powerball are better than getting bitten by a shark,” he said.

Shark dorsal fin in the sea
Experts insist shark attacks are incredibly rare and shouldn’t be seen as a looming threat to beachgoers.
Getty Images/iStockphoto
JAWS, from left: Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw, 1975
“The Jaws Effect” is the belief that sharks intentionally attack humans, sparked by Steven Spielberg’s classic 1975 film about a killer shark tormenting a beach town.
Courtesy of the Everett Collection

But despite science suggesting sharks pose no serious threat to humans, popular media has convinced them otherwise. Scientists have dubbed this “The Jaws Effect,” a belief that sharks attack humans on purpose.

Author Peter Benchley, who wrote the book that inspired the Steven Spielberg-directed film, admitted he regretted writing it years later and became a conservationist.

“Sharks don’t target humans, and they certainly don’t hold grudges,” he said. “There’s no such thing as a renegade shark developing a taste for human flesh.”

"Your chances of winning the Powerball are better than getting bitten by a shark" he said.
“Your odds of winning Powerball are better than getting bitten by a shark,” said Chris Lowe, director of Shark Lab.
Courtesy of the Everett Collection
Four "Jaw" Films were released between 1975 and 1987.
Four Jaws movies were released between 1975 and 1987.
Courtesy of the Everett Collection

While experts insist shark attacks are rare, they have become more common.

The East Coast has braced for this as it has continued to see more shark sightings and attacks in the past two years than in the previous decade.

A record-breaking 26 animals were sighted in Nassau County alone last summer. Overall, the US leads the world in “unprovoked” shark attacks after a three-year decline, while the death toll peaked at 11 in 2021, surpassing the previous peak of 10 in 2020.

Concerns about the 2022 season began to grow in December when a Viral tweet revealed that Ocearch Global Shark Trackers had mapped 100 tagged sharks congregating in the Atlantic Ocean near the east coast.

Just this week, a tourist was bitten by a shark in shallow waters on Long Island on Wednesday night, just hours after a surfer was bitten nearby — five feared shark attacks in New York in just two weeks.

https://nypost.com/2022/07/15/jaws-made-people-so-afraid-of-sharks-scientists-say/ “Jaws” made people so afraid of sharks, scientists say

Emma Bowman

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