Is Your Irrational Fear in the Top 10 of Phobias?


Shark Week is just not fun for many of you. (Getty Images)

Are you absolutely petrified of creepy, crawly bugs? Do you freeze at the thought of entering an enclosed elevator? Panic at the sight of a slithering snake, like Indiana Jones? You’re not alone. Especially, it seems, if you have a fear of heights.

It’s basic human nature for certain things to make us uncomfortable, or downright scared. Thanks to a small, almond-shaped part of the brain called the amygdala, when something frightens us, be it a haunted house at Halloween or a surprisingly loud noise outside of our quiet home at night that turns out to just be the wind, our survival instinct kicks in and within a mere tenth of a second we can go from calm to full on fight-or-flight mode — until we realize that there is not actually anything to be concerned about. Usually. But when that fear is extreme and can’t be quelled by simple logic, you’ve entered phobia territory.

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Phobias are more common than you might think, with 4 to 5 percent of the U.S. population suffering from one or more clinically significant phobias in a given year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. According to a newly conducted public poll from Ranker, more people are afraid of heights than anything else.

In the crowdsourced survey, which received 20,500 responses and included 44 phobias for participants to choose from, acrophobia, or an extreme or irrational fear of heights, topped the list, followed by arachnophobia (a fear of spiders) and claustrophobia (a fear of enclosed spaces). And while there is without a doubt no end to the number of things people can be afraid of, the top 10 most commonly cited fears from the survey are certainly relatable to many:

1. Acrophobia (heights)
2. Arachnophobia (spiders)
3. Claustrophobia (enclosed spaces)
4. Ophidiophobia (snakes)
5. Thalassophobia (deep water)
6. Necrophobia (death)
7. Glossophobia (public speaking)
8. Coulrophobia (clowns)
9. Trypanophobia (needles)
10. Entomophobia (insects)

Other phobias ranked on the list are a bit more out of the ordinary. Trypophobia, the fear of objects with irregular patterns of holes, came in eleventh, while lepidopterophobia, the fear of butterflies, ranked 18th. Perhaps the most meta of phobias, phobophobia, the fear of being struck by your fear in a totally unsuitable moment, hits the list at number 26, and pediophobia, a fear of dolls that is just plain logical to children of the ’80s who saw the movie Child’s Play at much too young an age, came in at number 28. Last on the list, at number 42, is the ironically multisyllabic fear of long words, hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia. (We did not make this up. hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia is not only a real word, but also a truly delightful song.)

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The survey also revealed some fascinating fear discrepancies based on gender and geography. Women reported higher instances of fear related to feelings of being trapped. While a fear of heights topped the general poll, claustrophobia came in as number one among female respondents, who also listed the fear of being smothered or suffocating (pnigophobia) in their top 10. (It’s ranked 15th on the general tally.) Men, on the other hand, were more likely to include a fear of dogs (cynophobia) and sharks (galeophobia) in their top 10.

Participants living on the West Coast or in the Northeast placed a fear of deep water (thalassophobia) high on their list, while those residing in the landlocked South, Midwest, or Mountain West areas of the country cited spiders (arachnophobia) as their number one fear.

Age made a difference as well, with millennials citing fear of the dark and of dogs as among their top phobias. (Really not helping to contradict those stereotypes, millennials.) Baby boomers, on the other hand, listed the more tactile fear of spiders as their number one phobia, and included katagelophobia, the fear of ridicule, in their top 10.

And while some phobias may sounds funny — looking at you, arachibutyrophobia (the fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth) — it’s important to remember that they are quite real to those who suffer from them. Even if, like number 40, triskaidecaphobia (fear of the number 13), they sound almost too particular to believe.

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