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Since Mel B implored us to tell her what we really really want, our interest in animal prints has never really subsided, at least the Spring Summer ’19 shows have confirmed as much.  Brognano, Michael Kors and Burberry were just a few designers to send models down the runway in stunning zebra, leopard and cow print designs and if that wasn’t enough to persuade you that animal print is having a moment, Rihanna turning up to the celebrate the anniversary of Fenty Beauty in Sydney earlier this month wearing a head to toe snakeskin Atelier Versace outfit surely is. Animal print has a pretty extensive history dating back to ancient Africa in its use exclusively by leaders and royalty alike and since the 1920’s celebrities and fashion designers have played a key role in bringing animal print to mainstream fashion. Fashion is cyclical and while most trends fade and re-emerge over time, animal print in one form or another has remained a staple in our wardrobes. What is the cause behind animal print’s rare ability to transcend seasons? Evolutionary psychology would suggest that it has something to do with fear.

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Fight or Flight

Evolutionary psychology dictates that human nature can be understood by analysing the behavioural and psychological adaptations evolved to ensure human survival and one psychological adaptation that has strong evolutionary roots is the fight or flight response. First coined by Walter Canon in the 1920s, fight or flight is a chain of rapidly occurring reactions inside the body to help  mobilize the body’s resources to deal with threatening circumstances. The most threatening circumstance of them all? Being face to face with a predator. Now whilst it’s a rarity to witness a leopard or tiger strolling through city streets, it can be argued that flashes of animal print are enough to activate a subconscious and instinctual fear response in the brain.

Dress: ASOS Design

Fear or Arousal?

But, if we’re afraid of something wouldn’t that increase our likelihood of avoiding it? That’s where the misattribution of arousal comes in. If asked to explain why we feel what we do at any given moment many people would claim to know the answer but that’s a common misconception as we all find it difficult to correctly identify the reasoning behind our feelings. For example, the physiological responses to both fear and arousal are incredibly similar such as increased blood pressure or shortness of breath which is why people often mistake fear for love and arousal and Dutton and Aron’s 1974 experiment demonstrated as much. In their study, an attractive female was asked to wait at the end of either a suspension bridge (that would induce fear) or a sturdy bridge (that would not induce fear). Male participants were asked to cross the bridge and during their walk the woman interrupted them and after a short interaction, she gave them her number. Results indicated that the woman received more phone calls from the men who walked the fear-inducing bridge. Researchers concluded that the fear response was confused with or misattributed with arousal for the woman in front of them.

The same outcome can be found when we’re confronted with animal prints. The latent fear response that has remained with us throughout the years to ensure our survival has been conflated with arousal overtime. It’s no wonder then why animal prints have been defined as both powerful and sexy. Just in time for spooky season, scare tactics can be a useful marketing trick when Halloween costumes are equal parts fear and sex.