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16 February, 2016 - 09:24

A phobia (from the Greek word phobos, which means “fear”) is a specificfear of a certain object, situation, or activity. The fear experience can range from a sense of unease to a full- blown panic attack. Most people learn to live with their phobias, but for others the fear can be so debilitating that they g o to extremes to avoid the fearful situation. A sufferer of arachnophobia (fear of spiders), for example, may refuse to enter a room until it has been checked thoroughly for spiders, or may refuse to vacation in the countryside because spiders may be there. Phobias are characterized by their specificity and their irrationality. A person with acrophobia (a fear of height) could fearlessly sail around the world on a sailboat with no concerns yet refuse to go out onto the balcony on the fifth floor of a building.

A common phobia is social phobia, extremshyness around people or discomfort in social situations. Social phobia may be specific to a certain event, such as speaking in public or using a public restroom, or it can be a more generalized anxiety toward almost all people outside of c lose family and friends. People with social phobia will often experience physical symptoms in public, such as sweating profusely, blushing, stuttering, nausea, and dizziness. They are convinced that everybody around them notices these symptoms as they are occurring. Women are somewhat more likely than men to suffer from social phobia.

The most incapacitating phobia is agoraphobia, defined as anxietyabout being in places or situations from which escape might be difficult or embarrassing, or in which help maynot be available(American Psychiatric Association, 2000). 1 Typical places that provoke the panic attacks are parking lots; crowded streets or shops; and bridges, tunnels, or expressways. People (mostly women) who suffer from agoraphobia may have great difficulty leaving their homes and interacting with other people.

Phobias affect about 9% of American adults, and they are about twice as prevalent in women as in men (Fredrikson, Annas, Fischer, & Wik, 1996; Kessler, Meron-Ruscio, Shear, & Wittchen, 2009). 2 In most cases phobias first appear in childhood and adolescence, and usually persist into adulthood. Table 12.4 presents a list of the common phobias that are diagnosed by psychologists.

Table 12.4 The Most Common Phobias





Fear of heights



Fear of situations in which escape is difficult


Fear of spiders



Fear of thunder and lightning


Fear of closed-in spaces


Fear of dogs



Fear of germs or dirt


Fear of snakes



Fear of flying


Social phobia

Fear of social situations


Fear of injections


Fear of small animals