Last updated on July 2, 2021.
Are you afraid of small holes, confined spaces, or even needles? These fears are in fact, specific phobias. Specific phobias refer to any irrational fear of a particular stimulus that causes anxious feelings, psychological distress and avoidance behaviors. Research found that specific phobias are actually the third most prevalent mental illnesses in the world, and that roughly one-third of young adults show symptoms of at least one specific phobia.
So, what exactly are these phobias? What are their causes? Find out fun facts about the 7 most common phobias with us below.
1. Trypophobia: Phobia of holes
Ever felt disgusted or queasy when looking at images of harmless holes? It can be explained by Trypophobia which is the fear of surfaces crammed with small holes. Although it is a common specific phobia, research revealed that people are actually not afraid of the holes. Images of clustered holes trigger discomfort because they share similar visual characteristics with poisonous animals, and hence results in unconscious fear.
What’s more, another study pointed out that trypophobia might as well be an evolutionary response. As the closely-packed holes look similar to parasites and infectious diseases like skin-transmitted pathogens, fears for holes could be our natural response to protect us against potential harm and diseases.
2. Claustrophobia: Phobia of confined spaces
Ever had terrible butterflies before entering a lift in fear of being “trapped”? Claustrophobia is known as the fear of confined space, particularly enclosed places with limited space. People with claustrophobia may feel panicky and anxious while staying in a confined space. For more severe cases, it is not uncommon for people with claustrophobia to actively avoid confined spaces, including lift, airplane and crowded train.
Interestingly, past research suggested that claustrophobia is associated with a genetic influence. Psychologists came to such a conclusion after conducting an experiment on rats to find that those lacking a gene called GPM6A tend to be more stressed and panicky when placed in a small house.
3. Musophobia: Phobia of mice
We just mentioned “rats” in the last paragraph — did thinking about them make you uncomfortable? Musophobia refers to the irrational fear of mice. Like arachnophobia (phobia of spiders), musophobia is classified as an animal-type specific phobia in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). Research suggested that while musophobic individuals find mice dirty and disgusting or even avoid looking at images containing mice, they may also be afraid of rodents, such as hamsters and guinea pigs.
Research pointed out that musophobia is caused by various reasons, including exposure to negative information about mice (e.g. being taught that mice spread germs), and unpleasant encounters with mice in the past (e.g. being bitten by a mouse).
4. Arachnophobia: Phobia of spiders
Have you heard of “spider trauma”? Arachnophobia, is simply put, the fear of spiders. People with this specific phobia have an intense fear and show avoidance of spiders and images of spiders.
Arachnophobia is likely linked with levels of disgust sensitivity. In particular, psychologists found that spider phobic participants generally show stronger disgust sensitivity compared to those without the phobia, implying that spider phobia may have strong associations with high disgust sensitivity. Whereas seeing heroes like Spider-Man on the big screen might help ease the fear of insect phobia, research suggested that arachnophobia has genetic influences — mothers of people with arachnophobia are usually spider-phobic.
5. Nyctophobia: Phobia of darkness
Does the thought about staying in the dark alone send a chill down your spine? Nyctophobia is the fear of darkness and a natural environment-type specific phobia. Individuals with nyctophobia experience extreme distress and discomfort when they are in darkness. Psychologists suggested that the lack of visual stimuli in the dark would lead to anxiety and uncertainty in nyctophobic individuals.
Past research found that nyctophobia is highly prevalent among children and is regarded as a normal developmental response with survival benefits. The reason is that children may perceive feelings of uncertainty in the dark as threats to survival,worrying about dangerous, disastrous events that may happen in the dark. Darkness also induces the fear of separation from parents, further reinforcing the phobia. It is important to note that Nyctophobia left untreated can cause disturbed sleep patterns and other harmful impacts on both physical and psychological health of children.
6. Acrophobia: Phobia of heights
Felt like jumping off the edge when you look down from great heights? Acrophobia is the phobia of heights and a situation-specific phobia. Individuals with acrophobia seek to avoid height-related situations such as high-level apartments and flying on an airplane.
Whereas research suggested that acrophobia could be caused by past traumatic events associated with high places. One particular study identified the cognition behind being in elevated places as the cause of such fear. For instance, individuals with acrophobia may carry cognitive biases like “I’m going to fall”, causing heart racing, stress and discomfort. Contemporary therapists use virtual reality exposure therapy (VRET) to treat the underlying causes of acrophobia.
7. Trypanophobia: Phobia of needles
Is getting the COVID-19 vaccine a daunting task for you? Trypanophobia — the needle phobia — might explain why. According to the British Journal of Anaesthesia, people with trypanophobia generally avoid healthcare settings. Unsurprisingly, the phobia of needles develops and stems from the painful sensations of needle injection and the accompanying side effects. For example, the fear of fainting would transform into the fear of needles, ultimately leading to avoidance of needles.
Trypanophobia is also known as a learned response. By focusing on the strong connection between fainting and needles, individuals with this particular phobia might have unknowingly replaced their fear of fainting with fear of needles.
Aside from the 7 common phobias, there are actually more weird and interesting phobias that you probably never heard of:
- Coulrophobia: Phobia of clowns
- Ornithophobia: Phobia of birds
- Turophobia: Phobia of cheese
- Entomophobia: Phobia of insects
- Obesophobia: Phobia of gaining weight
- Nomophobia: Phobia of being without a mobile phone
Phobias are common and treatable. It is completely normal if you relate to the above symptoms. All of us possess at least a bit of everything somewhere in the back of our heads. As currently there is no one-size-fit-all treatment to cure each phobia, rather than going out of our way to avoid or control it, learning to live with it might be the way to go!