Science Behind Phobias


People with phobias tend to be very scared of things that are dangerous to them. There are many different types of phobias, but fear is a significant part of all cases. People also have a lot of different fears that they might not even know about. This article discusses the science behind phobias and why they happen in certain ways.

Thoughts of fear and anxiety can be overwhelming, but they are not all irrational or inexplicable. In some cases, they may have a basis in real-world events or experiences. Here are a few scientific explanations for common phobias:

1. Learned Fear

The brain is a learning machine, and it learns by association. We associate things that are scary with other things that are also scary. This is why people with phobias often have memorable incidents from their childhood that sparked the fear. For example, someone with a fear of spiders might remember being scared when a spider was on the ceiling near them as a child.

2. Biological Sensitivity to Threats

Certain parts of our brains are specifically designed to respond to threats and danger, whether those threats are real (like spiders) or imagined (like heights). When these areas of the brain are activated, they create feelings of fear and anxiety.

3. Cognitive Dissonance

When something is threatening but we don’t understand why it’s scary, our brain creates an internal conflict (called cognitive dissonance). This conflict makes us feel uneasy and uncertain about what to do next. It’s why some people with phobias find it difficult to talk about their fears – they’re worried that others will think they’re crazy or stupid if they admit how afraid they really are.

4. Conditioned responses

The body responds to a stimulus in a Pavlovian fashion – meaning that it learns to associate that stimulus with a particular response (in this case, being afraid). This type of fear is often referred to as “unconditioned” or “innate” fear because it is present in all humans from birth.

5. Neurological factors

Phobias can be caused by abnormalities in the brainstem (the part of the brain that controls basic survival functions like breathing and heart rate) or areas of the cortex (the part of the brain responsible for higher order thinking skills). The brains of people with phobias respond differently when they see or hear the object or situation that is causing the fear response, which can make it difficult to overcome the fear.


Phobias are one of the most common mental health disorders, affecting approximately 20% of the population. They are characterized by a fear or anxiety towards a specific object or situation, and can be very debilitating. There is still much we don’t know about phobias, but what little research has been conducted suggests that there may be a biological component to them. This means that phobic behaviors may have roots in our genetic makeup and could not be changed easily through behavioral therapy alone. However, staying aware of your own tendencies and taking steps to address them early on can go a long way in improving your quality of life.

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