Some excellent experiments in behavioral research were conducted by Professor Susan Mineka in the eighties. She worked with monkeys and videotapes, and unlike most recorded work featuring monkeys from the eighties, hers did not feature skateboards, wacky escapes from inept hitmen or even a single harebrained scheme to raise funds for the local youth center. It was about fear.
Wild monkeys are deathly afraid of snakes - to the point where they'll starve to death rather than reach across even a fake snake to get food. Since learning this fear by experience is a literally short-lived solution, this fear was thought to be hereditary. Monkeys born in captivity exhibited no such fear, however, which seemed to hole the hereditary idea - until Mineka got together some primates for the ultimate horror movie.
By showing some monkeys footage of a wild monkey utterly terrified of snakes, she triggered the same hysterical responses in those who had never seen the object of fear, would never see it and were never going to be at any risk from it. We can't comment on whether the Department of Homeland Security read this research. Further, attempts to trigger a fear of flowers by showing fake footage of a monkey scared of plants failed. It seemed that the "snakes suck" wiring was always there, but until it was externally triggered it never manifested.
The same research also showed how to combat these phobic trip-switches: by showing them a monkey that wasn't scared of snakes, even if that was a fake monkey, the terror-reaction was strongly reduced. Which technically means you could make a child immune to letting them watch Chuck Norris movies when young. Because all these phobic-factors seem as applicable to humans as they are to other primates, with applications in child-rearing and anxiety management. They weren't just doing this research because somebody wanted the job "monkey frightener."
Posted by Luke McKinney.
Genes affect phobias http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/ridley03/ridley_p5.html
Anxiety Disorder research http://www.loc.gov/loc/brain/emotion/Mineka.html