Spiders appear bigger to people who are scared of them, researchers say.

A new Israeli study has indicated that arachnophobes overestimate spider size compared with other neutral animals, such as birds and butterflies, that do not cause fear.

"We found that although individuals with both high and low arachnophobia rated spiders as highly unpleasant, only the highly fearful participants overestimated the spider size," said study leader Dr Tali Leibovich of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

"This study revealed how perception of even a basic feature such as size is influenced by emotion, and demonstrates how each of us experiences the world in a unique and different way."

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The research could be useful in treating phobias.