Entries in Phobias (8)


Is Cinema-Phobia Taking Hold?

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- When Emilie Yount was in her 20s, she used to spend five days a week huddled in Chicago movie theater seats, "banging out" film reviews and blogs for publications like Reel Reviews and Being alone in a darkened theater with hundreds of strangers facing the same direction never fazed her.

But on Saturday, Yount, 30, gave away her tickets to see The Dark Knight Rises even though she'd bought them in advance because she loved the second Christopher Nolan Batman film so much. She said she couldn't face going to the theater in the wake of the Colorado shooting on Friday morning that left 12 moviegoers dead at the hands of a stranger.

"My nerves have peaked," she told ABC News. "To have something like that happen… I can't think of anything worse, to be honest."

Yount said she has no history of anxiety or problems with small spaces, but she thinks it will take her a few months to head back to the cinema.

And psychologists say Yount isn't alone.

"I'm sure there will be people who the horror of that situation will indeed lead them to be afraid of going to the theaters," said Dr. Phillip Levendusky, director of the Psychology Department at McLean Hospital in Massachusetts and a professor at Harvard Medical School. "Do I think it's going to be a crisis in the movie industry? Probably not, but it wouldn't surprise me if some people have a reaction."

Levendusky told ABC News that he has treated phobias from fear of snow to fear of fish, and even to fear of butterflies. He defined a phobia as being afraid of something though conventional wisdom suggests there's no threat.

To be a legitimate phobia, however, the fear has to impede day-to-day activities and last at least six months.

Dr. Fred Neuman, who directs the Anxiety and Phobia Treatment Center in White Plains, N.Y., said he's already heard from patients who said they're uncomfortable going to the movies. In fact, one patient told him he's afraid of seeing the new "Batman" movie in particular.

"The usual thing that happens whenever calamity like this occurs is that people who are already nervous tend to get more nervous, and people who are not nervous in the first place tend to ignore it," Neuman said.

Dr. Donna Pincus, director of the Child and Adolescent Fear and Anxiety Treatment Program at Boston University, told ABC News that the uneasiness some people feel about movie theaters right now is normal.

"When such a tragedy occurs, it focuses our attention on our vulnerabilities rather than control and safety," she said. "Fear is just a natural human emotion…It wouldn't be human not to feel those feelings when you're watching things like this."

But when a fear interferes with a person's ability to function, it's classified as a phobia. According to the National Institute on Mental Health, 8.7 percent of Americans in 2008, or 19.2 billion people, suffered from a phobia of some kind. It's not clear how many people are specifically afraid of theaters.

Pincus said that children and adults should understand the difference between possibility and probability.

"How many movies have you ever been to in your life and how often have you ever had trouble or danger present?" Pincus said. "The news does not show us…thousands of people went to the movies tonight and they they all had a wonderful time and all got home safely."

Yount says she knows she's more likely to be struck by lightning than to be shot at a movie theater, but she can't stop herself from reading news coverage of the shooting in Aurora. Although Yount was an avid Harry Potter fan who attended midnight showings of the films, she said she doesn't think she'll ever go to another midnight release.

"When you really enjoy anything and it kind of gets marred, it's never a nice thing," she said. "It will be months [before I return to the cinema], I can just tell. It's not something I'm going to rush to do."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Spider Phobics Hold Hairy Tarantula, Get Cured

Katherina Hauner(CHICAGO) -- B.D., a 34-year-old with a lifelong fear of spiders, found his phobia intensified after a trip to Australia where he encountered the Huntsman variety, a hairy tarantula that scuttles out from behind curtains and is notorious for entering cars and scurrying across the dashboard.

But today, after two hours of exposure therapy as part of a study at Northwestern University, B.D. finds spiders tame and amusing -- so much so that he allowed a hairy, Chilean rose tarantula named Florence to amble up his arm.

"It was like the ultimate extreme sport, a chance to face my fears in a very literal sense," B.D., an administrative assistant, wrote on a blog about his experience on his blog, "Room 101."

"It's been three years now, but I am still amazed whenever I react calmly and reasonably to their presence in my life," he wrote. "Just yesterday I helped a big green fellow off my desk, marveling that I didn't flee the room instead."

In 2009, B.D. was paid $100 to take part in a study at Northwestern University's Feinberg's School of Medicine, the first to document the immediate and long-term brain changes after exposure therapy. There, 12 terrified subjects were exposed to a variety of spiders -- first in photos, then in a terrarium and finally in the palm of their hands.

The study revealed that a single brief therapy session for adults with a lifelong fear of spiders -- or arachnophobia -- showed lasting changes to the brain's response to fear.

Arachnophobia is one of the most common specific phobias, and those who are afraid will go to great lengths to make sure they never see a spider. They may avoid hiking or camping or any situation where a spider might be present.

Specific phobias, which fall under anxiety disorders, affect about 7 percent of the population, according to the researchers. The most common include fear of blood, needles, snakes, flying and enclosed spaces.

But they say that their study may be applicable to all kinds of common phobias, as well as obsessive-compulsive disorder and post traumatic stress disorder.

"Before treatment, some of these participants wouldn't walk on grass for fear of spiders or would stay out of their home or dorm room for days if they thought a spider was present," said lead researcher Katherina Hauner, a post-doctoral fellow in neurology.

"But after a two or three-hour treatment, they were able to walk right up and touch or hold a tarantula. And they could still touch it after six months. They were thrilled by what they accomplished."

The study, which was published in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was the first to use functional MRIs to measure anxiety in the brain before and after exposure to the feared object.

Not only were patients less afraid after the two-hour therapy session, but they were phobia-free six months later.

The anxiety levels in their brain were measured at different intervals. When subjects experienced fear, certain parts of the brain, like the amygdala, insula, and cingulate cortex, lit up with activity on a functional MRI scan.

When the same study participants were asked to touch the tarantula six months later, "they walked right up to it and touched it," according to Hauner said.

Study participants had to meet the criteria for specific phobias as defined by the American Psychiatric Association's a Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

"They had to be much more afraid of spiders than the average person," said Hauner. "And to meet the diagnostic criteria, it had to interfere with their life."

"Some wouldn't go home or stay in a dorm room for days if they thought a spider was there," she said. "One person avoiding traveling -- but after the study, they went on a trip."

Researchers used hierarchical steps to introduce patients to the feared object, first in photos of different spiders and then approaching a live one.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Spiders Appear Bigger When You Fear Them

Duncan Smith/Thinkstock(COLUMBUS) -- If you suffer from an irrational fear of spiders, you may perceive the critters to be much larger than they actually are, according to a new study published in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders.

Researchers from Ohio State University recruited 57 people who suffered from arachnophobia, a fear of spiders, to better understand how perception affects phobia.  In the study, participants agreed to encounter tarantulas that varied in size (1 to 6 inches wide) five different times within an eight-week period.

In the first experiment, participants stood 12 feet away from a tank containing a spider, and moved closer to it upon instruction. Participants rated their own fear level using a distress scale of zero to 100 as they moved closer, and once beside the tank, researchers told them to move the spiders around with an eight-inch probe.

Afterwards, researchers took the spiders out of the room and participants were instructed to draw a single line to show how long the spider was that they saw.  Researchers found that, the more fear the participant expressed while encountering the spiders, the larger, and more inaccurate, they guessed the spiders to be.

“Given that our informal observations suggested the occurrence of the bias, we were not surprised that we found evidence for it in our study,” said Michael Vasey, lead author of the study and a psychologist at Ohio State University Medical Center. “However, it is fair to say that we were very surprised by the magnitude of the bias. We have seen highly fearful participants draw lines that are two to three times as long as the actual spider.”

Even in other research, Vasey said participants have looked directly at the spider while drawing the line and still estimate a larger-than-actual size.

The findings suggest that such biased perceptions may be a useful target for treatment, which could help patients recognize their observations, and then discount them and adjust for them, experts said.

Vasey said treatments for phobias are remarkably effective, although many who live in fear may not even know about them. The treatments typically come in the form of cognitive-behavior therapy, which assists the person in encountering the thing they fear so that they can correct the mistaken beliefs about the object that feeds their phobia. Nevertheless, most people who suffer from arachnophobia do not seek treatment.

“Individuals with phobias typically avoid the thing they fear or engage in safety behaviors, [or] behaviors designed to minimize risk despite encountering the feared object or situation, and therefore they are sheltered from discovering that their expectations regarding the feared object are wrong in ways that feed the fear,” said Vasey.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Fear of Friday, the 13th Among List of Unpronounceable Phobias

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Whatever the origin, religious or secular, Friday, the 13th equals a paralyzing, debilitating fear for millions of Americans.

Paraskevidekatriaphobia, as coined by psychotherapist Donald Dossey of the Stress Management Center-Phobia Institute in Ashville, N.C., bedevils “people with blind, unreasoning fear of this day and date, as opposed to those who have a clear, reasonable fear of not being able to say that word,” according to the institute’s website.

Dossey tells patients, “Paraskevidekatriaphobia -- when you learn to pronounce it, you’re cured.”

Good luck with that feat of verbal dexterity, or with several other phobias that are as unpronounceable as the next.  Here are a few:

-- Friday, the 13th scares up plenty of fodder by itself.  Besides the aforementioned paraskevidekatriaphobia, there’s also an alternate spelling, paraskavedekatriaphobia.  The same end-of-the-week anxiety is also called friggatriskaidekaphobia.

-- The abbreviated triskaidekaphobia might roll off the tongue with less twisting but is no easier to bear for people whose fears include the number 13, every day of the week.

-- Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia is fear of  “666.”

-- Gephyrophobia is the fear of bridges.

-- Arachibutyrophobia is the fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth.

-- Psellismophobia is the fear of stuttering.

-- Aichmophobia is the morbid fear of sharp objects.

-- Spheksophobia is the fear of wasps.

-- Sesquipedaliophobia is the fear of long words, which has morphed into the contrived hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Elevator Death Can Trigger Fear in Phobics

Hemera/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Brian Davidson, a school administrator from New Jersey, knows what it's like to be trapped in an elevator that suddenly jerks and stops, as riders begin to sweat, and an unspoken panic rises. He was riding shoulder-to-shoulder with 34 other jurors at the Trenton courthouse a couple of years ago when they got stuck between the third and fourth floors. "Even the guard who was escorting us didn't know what to do," said Davidson, 52.

Worst of all, the jurors had been told, "for safety reasons," not to bring their cellphones with them. "People started to panic, and when one person called for help, she literally picked up the receiver and the chord was hanging," he said. "It wasn't connected.

"It was amazing how quickly the fear spread and people were definitely breathing heavily and you could hear the tension rising in their voices," he said. "I was doing my best to stretch my head above the crowd to stay calm. But you could feel the fear."

With recent events, riders have reason to fear elevators, which can evoke claustrophobia, even when they work properly. This week, 41-year-old Suzanne Hart, an advertising executive at New York City's Young & Rubicam, was crushed to death when she stepped into a Madison Avenue elevator as the door closed in on her and dragged her upward between the elevator and the shaft. In the aftermath of the accident, the two other passengers were treated for trauma.

"You really felt for the victim," said Davidson, who was eventually rescued after about 10 long minutes. "Talk about, 'There for the grace of God go I.' There were no warning signs and the people who were trapped had to deal with the horror of knowing that that poor person would not survive."

Experts say most people do not develop phobias after one traumatic event.

About 8 percent of the population -- or about 25 million Americans -- suffer from phobias, according to Dr. Todd Farchione, director of the intensive treatment program at the Center for Anxiety-Related Disorders at Boston University. Only about 2 percent have situational-specific phobias, such as fear of elevators or related claustrophobia.

"Phobias, in general, are an irrational fear of a situation or object," he said. "And it has to be interfering in a person's life and distressing to the individual separate from standard fears."

The two New Yorkers who witnessed Hart's death likely suffered from post-traumatic stress, according to Farchione, and would not necessarily go on to develop a phobia of elevators.

But some do go on to have a fear after trauma. "We learn to be afraid of things," he said. "You are bit by a dog and associate the pain and fear with the dog. Some develop phobia without trauma. You see someone else afraid of something, like an image of a housewife on a table when a mouse is in the room. You might develop a fear of mice."

People can also be "bombarded" with information and develop phobias. "The story about the elevator trapping and killing someone is such a rare event, but what we see is sensational," he said. "You can inflate the likelihood of those things happening."

Phobias present themselves as panic attacks, as Davidson described when he was trapped in a crowded elevator.

Farchione said the "fear reaction is accompanied by physical feelings like sweating, rapid heart rate, shakiness, feeling out of body and light-headed. It's primarily driven by how we breathe in the rush of fear."

No one dies of a panic attack, he said, and cognitive behavioral therapies are 80 to 90 percent effective. "You gradually confront the things you are afraid of," he said.

As for Davidson, he admits he is not totally comfortable with elevators, especially because he was trapped twice again at a prestigious department store in New York City, where facilities can be older.

Records for the Madison Avenue property showed 56 violations of New York City's building code involving some of the building's 13 elevators, dating back to 2001. The last citation occurred in 2009, and all of the complaints are listed as resolved by the city Buildings Department. reports that about 27 people are killed in elevator accidents per year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Consumer Product Safety Commission. About 10,000 people every year are injured because of elevators.

Davidson was rescued after a grueling 10 minutes. One woman on the elevator whipped out her cellphone, and although she was scolded by the guard, the call went through to security. Officials were able to pry the doors open and all stepped out for their day in court.

"But it still makes me nervous," he said. "Especially if I am in a big elevator with a lot of people in a crowded office building."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


One in 10 'Shy' Kids May Have Social Phobia

Photodisc/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Many kids go through a shy or "awkward" phase at some point in adolescence, but shyness can become more than a stint of social timidity. Twelve percent of youths who call themselves "shy" may actually be socially phobic, according to research from the Nation Institute of Mental Health. The research, published Monday, appears in the journal Pediatrics.

Some scholars, however, hesitate to classify social phobia as a mental disorder, suggesting that doing so could "medicalize" normal shyness and lead to overmedication of young people who in the past were merely considered introverted.

After surveying more than 10,000 kids between the ages of 13 and 18, as well as 6,000 of their parents, however, researchers have concluded that social phobia is in fact a debilitating psychological disorder that affects about one in 10 "shy" kids.

"Adolescents were asked to rate their shyness around people their own age whom they didn't know very well on a scale from four to one. Parents were asked to rate their child on the same questions," says Kathleen Merikangas, co-author of the study and chief of the Genetic Epidemiology Research Branch at the National Institute of Mental Health.

Shyness was extremely prevalent among those polled -- about 47 percent of kids reported they were shy, and 62 percent of parents reported their child was shy. Researchers found that in a small subset of those who reported shyness, shyness was just one symptom of a larger psychological problem, social phobia.

"Shyness is a temperamental trait that has differences across [childhood and adolescent] development. Shy people are not necessarily disturbed by their reserved nature," says Merikangas. "Although social phobia can be considered an extreme form of shyness, there was not complete overlap."

Merikangas said that unlike those who were merely shy, those with social phobia were debilitated by their fear of social interactions, impaired in their ability to do schoolwork and participate in social activity and family relationships. They often experienced severe anxiety reactions during social interactions, including blushing, sweating, rapid pulse and trembling.

"People with social phobia report the reaction is excessive and unreasonable, and they suffer from an inability to extinguish the fear reaction and extreme concern that others will observe the fear reaction," she says.

Those with social phobia were also more likely to experience other psychological problems such as anxiety, depression, behavioral issues and substance abuse, but were no more likely to be on psychiatric medication than their peers without social phobia. This may mean, authors noted, that teens with this debilitating disorder may not be seeking the help they need.

"The results also suggest that the majority of young people with social phobia are not receiving effective and appropriate treatment," says Dr. David Fassler, clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Vermont College of Medicine.  

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


What Phobia Holds Brad Pitt Back?

Michael Tran/FilmMagic(LOS ANGELES) -- Note to Brad Pitt fans: If you’re ever in a car with the A-list actor, make sure he makes all the right turns. Otherwise, you could be in for a very long, and indirect, road trip.

The Moneyball star has revealed what is certainly a new entry in the ongoing list of unusual phobias, a fear of travelling “backwards” in his car.

Pitt, 47, told UK’s Empire magazine, “If I’m walking out the door and I’ve forgotten something, I can’t go back and get it. It is something in my nature. If I’m driving down the road and I miss a turn, I have to keep going forward. I can’t reverse. It’s some kind of psychological defect.”

The star says he believes his obsession with moving forward in life is behind his fear.

“It’s just that, for better or worse, I want to keep moving on,” he told the magazine.  “I don’t like to go backwards. It’s not what I’m good at.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Ho Ho Horrible: Is Your Child Scared of Santa? 

Photo Courtesy -- Getty Images(CLEVELAND, Ohio) -- At age 2, Christopher Texler couldn't wait to meet Santa. He watched patiently as, one by one, his daycare mates were hoisted onto Santa's knee. But when it came his turn, Christopher was petrified.
"The look on his face was one of desperate terror," recalled Christopher's mom, Kirsten Texler, who has the photo to prove it. "He just lost it!"

Christopher's reaction is surprisingly common. Margaret Richards, PhD, a child psychologist at Cleveland Clinic Children's Hospital, says it's normal for young children to be wary of strangers – especially ones so strangely dressed.

"We really work with kids on not talking to strangers and being cautious about those kinds of things, and that all goes out the window at Christmas time," Richards says.

Coulrophobia, the fear of clowns, is perhaps more widely accepted than the fear of Santa. But the figures share similar disconcerting features, including their large stature, abnormal dress and covered faces.

The key to overcoming Santa-induced stress, Richards said, is talking about what to expect. But if, like Christopher, a child wants to be nowhere near Santa, there are other ways to get in touch.

"They can write letter or draw a picture," Richards said. "Parents should make sure their children know Santa will still get the message."

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio