• Question: Why are different people scared of different things?

    Asked by joel252000 to Alison, Helen, Matt, Miranda on 4 Jul 2012.
    • Photo: Alison Atkin

      Alison Atkin answered on 4 Jul 2012:


      Hi Joel. This is a great question, but not something I know a lot about – so I may have to look some things up. There are some fears that are pretty common, and are rooted in human biology as a survival mechanism – the fear of heights, fear of spiders, etc. Not everyone has these fears, or some people learn to overcome them, but each of them tends to have a reasons behind them that we can figure out! For instance, falling from a height can be can dangerous, so our bodies react with fear to get us to avoid it; spiders might be poisonous or toxic, so our bodies react with fear so we stay away.

      A lot of things we are scared of are sensible and as we experience the situations more and learn how to handle them we become less scared (being in the dark can be scary, but as we learn that it is safe, it becomes less scary).

      But, there are other fears – things like phobias – that make less biological (survival sense) and seem to differ from person to person. Some people don’t have any phobias, other people might have only one, and others might be scared of many things. A phobia causes a reaction in people that is far beyond what would be expected for the level of danger (or in the case of some things, there is *no* danger, but people are still scared) – phobias don’t usually change, so even if someone experiences something many times, they will still be just as scared a they were the first time. Spiders are a good example – lots of people are frightened by spiders, but because they know they are not dangerous (at least not most of the time here in the UK) they get over the feeling very quickly… people who have a phobia of spiders are often unable to move, feel extremely scared, their heart-rate increases, and it will not stop until the spider is gone – this level of reaction is more than you would expect for a teeny weeny spider!

      Many people describe phobias as ‘irrational’ (they don’t make any sense) and many people with phobias themselves know there is no real reason to be scared, but they can’t help the feeling that happens.

      Some common phobias are: arachnophobia (fear of spiders), coulrophobia (fear of clowns), hemophobia (fear of blood), and there are many more!

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