Phobia is defined as an avoidance behaviour mediated by fear and capable of interfering in a significant way with the normal activities of an individual. Such avoidance behaviour is moreover excessive in relation to the danger presented by a particular object or a specific situation, and the person involved can recognise that his/her reaction is unreasonable. The most common phobias are a fear of heights (acrophobia), the fear of spiders (aracnophobia), the fear of snakes (ophidiophobia), a morbid fear of blood, bleeding or wounds (haemophobia), the fear of closed, restricted spaces (claustrophobia), the fear of open spaces (agoraphobia), the fear of being buried alive (taphophobia) and the fear of dogs (cinophobia). See the glossary for a complete list of the most common phobias.


The specific phobias are unjustified fears caused by the presence or expectation of an appearance of a certain object or situation. Many specific fears do not cause problems that are invalidating to the point where a person will try to seek outside help. If, for example, a person living in an urban area who suffers from an extreme fear of snakes will not likely have much real, direct contact with the object of the fear itself and will thus become convinced he or she does not suffer from a serious problem. The situation would be entirely different if the same person were living in an area where a large number of snakes might be found. The term ‘phobia’ generally implies a subjective psychological sufferance and impaired social or occupational functioning as a consequence of the related anxiety.

The prevalence of these disorders is set at around 7% in men and 16% in women (Kessler et al., 1994; Magee et al.,1996). The content of the specific phobias may vary quite considerably between one culture and another. in China for example ‘pa-leng’ is a fear of the cold, in which the person fears that the loss of body heat may threaten his/her existence. This fear appears to be correlated with the Chinese philosophical Yin/Yang concept, whereby ‘yin’ indicates the ‘cold’ and ‘windy’ aspects of life which decrease one’s energy level. The most widespread convictions within a particular culture therefore appear capable of channelling individual fears towards particular situations or objects.


Social Phobia, also referred to as a social anxiety disorder, is defined as an irrational and persistent fear generally linked to the presence of other persons. This condition can be extremely debilitating as those who suffer from it try to avoid a particular situation in which they might be the object of evaluation on the part of other people and revealing signs of anxiety or embarrassing behaviour. The social phobias can be of the generalized or the specific type, depending on the array of situations that are feared and avoided. In individuals suffering from the generalized type, the disorder has an earlier onset and is often accompanied by a higher tendency to present depression and alcohol abuse.

The social phobias are rather common, with a lifetime prevalence of 11% in men and 15% in women (Kessler et al., 1994; Magee et al., 1996). Their onset often occurs during adolescence, when social awareness and the interaction with others assume a much greater importance in people’s lives. It is not a rare occurrence however to find these fears becoming manifest also amongst children. As in the case of specific phobias, the content of social phobias varies on the basis of one’s culture of origin. In Japan for example, the fear of offending or harming others is a primary preoccupation, while in the United States the fear of being judged in a negative way is much more common.

>>> (Panic disorder)


Bibliographical references:

Kessler, R.C., McGonagle, K.A., Shayang, Z., Nelson, C.B., Hughes, M., Eshleman, S., Wittchen, H.U., & Kendler, K. (1994). Lifetime and 12-month prevalence of DSM-III-R psychiatric disorders in the United States. Archives of General Psychiatry, 51, 8-19.

Psychology and psychotherapy
Claustrofobia, aracnofobia, paura dei serpenti
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