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Science News: What are you afraid of?

– K.J., Editor

Have you ever been afraid of something? Many humans experience fear of flying in airplanes, insects (especially spiders), heights, and the dark. However, some people can experience an intense and irrational fear that is disproportionate to the level of danger, called a phobia. Phobias also tend to have very interesting names which can seem rather strange.

For example, nomophobia is the fear of being without your mobile phone and hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia is the fear of long words. The latter term is quite interesting, as I expect it would trigger those suffering from this phobia if they were to see or hear its name. A trigger is a thought, image, sensation, and memory that a person has become sensitized to.

Now you must be thinking, “If phobias are so irrational, why do people develop them?” Ronald M. Rapee, professor of psychology and founding director of the Centre for Emotional Health at Macquarie University in Australia, stated that a common theory on the origin of phobias is that they are learned during key periods of development in childhood. However, this may be the exception, because most people with phobias cannot recall specific traumatic events. Phobias can be treated and there are many therapies and treatment options available. The key is to face your fear. Rapee recommends exposure therapy: consistently experiencing the triggers and situations related to the phobia in a safe and controlled environment. Though phobias can seem inescapable, they are not permanent. The important thing is to try and overcome them.

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