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Common Phobia Names and Descriptions

Updated on September 19, 2012


Psychologists usually consider specific phobias to belong in one of three distinct sub-groups, social phobia, specific phobias and agoraphobia. Between them, they affect almost 5% of the population of the United States on a daily, persistent basis. In the 18-54 age bracket, the percentage of people who suffer from a phobia-related anxiety disorder at least once a year is a whopping 13% or 19 million people.

In this article I will predominantly cover specific phobias, but I will also cover the two other types of phobia in broad strokes, simply because I am pretty sure the symptoms may strike a personal chord with many readers, they surely do with me!


Specific Phobias

Specific phobias are defined as the irrational fear of a specific, tangible object or situation, rather than the anxiety that surrounds a social context (more on this later). Here is a list of the most common specific phobias, along with their descriptions.

The fear of heights (acrophobia) - Perhaps, along with certain animal phobias, one of the most iconic and common fears around. Most people don't know that the acrophobia can be broken down even further to encompass a wide variety of sub-fears.

  • Bathmophobia - The fear of slopes and stairs.
  • Aerophobia - The fear of flying. Being aerophobic does not necessarily imply you are scared of heights. Statistics estimate that as many as 25% of people are afflicted by this particular fear.
  • Climacophobia - The fear of climbing. Is similar to bathmophobia in that it involves the fear of steep gradients, but is only set in motion once you are in the process of actually climbing.

Typical Phobia Induced Symptoms

  • Dizziness (vertigo)
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Tightness of the chest
  • Panic attacks
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Emotion (crying, fear of losing control, fear of death, feeling the need to escape, a general sense of detachment or the surreal)
  • Sweating
  • Stomach pain
  • Flashes of hot or cold

The fear of thunder and lightning (astraphobia) - Despite the minimal threat presented by most thunder and lightning storms, astraphobia causes those afflicted to be permeated by a sense of dreadful anxiety (for other common symptoms please refer to the text capsule to the right).

The fear of arachnids (arachnophobia) - While most people call this the fear of "spiders" it also includes other arachnids such as scorpions. Interestingly, a startling 50% of women and 10% of men claim to hold this particular fear, making it incredibly widespread.

The fear of having no escape (claustrophobia) - Many psychologists speculate that this irrational fear is triggered by a traumatic event such as becoming stuck or getting locked-in.

The fear of snakes (ophidiophobia) - Not to be confused with herpetophobia which is the generalized fear of reptiles and amphibians. Ophidiophobia is considered an innate fear, or evolutionary fear, because it allowed us to categorize a threat immediately.

The fear of needles (trypanophobia)- Ten percent of the population is estimated to suffer from typanophobia, which usually manifests itself with a fear of blood-tests, vaccinations and many types of medical procedures. This fear is another example of what is called an innate evolutionary fear, and is deemed to be a genetic trait aimed at helping us avoid situations where we might get stabbed or hurt.

The fear of clowns (coulrophobia) - While this may not be "common", I took it upon myself to add it to the list because I find it to be a great example of how specific phobias can manifest themselves into odd, yet powerful compulsions. Coulrophobia is far more common among children than it is with adults, and it is speculated that the reason is because kids are confused by a familiar body crowned by an unfamiliar face.


Social Phobia

Social phobia differs from specific phobias in that it is a generic fear of public humiliation or embarrassment without a specific context. Social phobia is considered an umbrella term for other social anxiety subsets such as:

  • Social anxiety disorder - In effect, a series of symptoms which impair your ability to function in intense social situations. Sadly, SAD is at the heart of many substance abuse addictions because they may "help" the user feel, in the short-term, less restricted and self--conscious in social situations.
  • Specific social phobias - A social phobia which is sparked by a specific type of social situation such as the fear of public speaking (glossophobia).


Agoraphobia is the generalized fear that is catalyzed by leaving the security of a personal comfort zone (it is usually defined as the fear of unfamiliar surroundings). There are numerous ways this fear presents itself, salient examples include:

  • The fear of death (necrophobia) - That's certainly one way of leaving our comfort zone!
  • The fear of mobs (ochlophobia)
  • The fear of crowds (demophobia)
  • The fear of strangers (xenophobia)

Clinically, there are two separate models of agoraphobia which may not be linked by the same principal causes. These are agoraphobia with an accompanying panic attack, and agoraphobia without the emergence of a panic attack. A popular yet (unproven) theory regarding the causes of agoraphobia holds that it stems from an evolutionary urge to avoid exposure (such as an open field) in order to improve our odds of survival.


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    • teresapelka profile image

      Teresa Pelka 5 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

      I once happened to be told I sure had learned some American psychology. I opposed, there wasn't any national psychology to me. Humans are humans.

      Well, to my knowledge, photophobia for example is actually (sometimes acquired) neural hypersensitivity to light. You couldn't treat it with sustained exposure.

      I agree that touring the pyramids shouldn't be traumatic.

      Just as for your postulation on the healing effects of exposure - adrenalin is no good for the brain in anything like a longer run. It can only make the muscle faster. :)

    • mperrottet profile image

      Margaret Perrottet 5 years ago from Pennsauken, NJ

      Interesting and well written hub. Sometimes the best way to overcome a phobia is to deal with it directly. I was always terrified to speak in public, and so took a Dale Carnegie class in which I had to give a speech every week for 10 weeks. It worked - after that I could speak in public with much less anxiety. Voted up, useful and interesting.

    • thooghun profile image

      James D. Preston 5 years ago from Rome, Italy

      Thank you tuton!

    • thooghun profile image

      James D. Preston 5 years ago from Rome, Italy

      Thank you for your time and honest feedback Teresa. I'll correct the typo immediately, it was obviously not intentional.

      I'm not sure I entirely agree with you. The term phobia simply represents the notion of fear, the cause is immaterial. My mother developed her fear of confined spaces only once she had visited the pyramids in Egypt. My point is, a post-traumatic experience can lead to persistent phobias.

      I'll quote the HGI (Human givens institute): "Any uncontrolled, persistent, irrational fear that is accompanied by a compelling desire to avoid the object, activity, or situation that provokes the fear, is called a phobia. As far as the brain is concerned it is no different from PTSD"

    • teresapelka profile image

      Teresa Pelka 5 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

      I wouldn't agree with your 'claustraphobia' - most spellings have an 'o', 'claustrOphobia'. More importantly, a phobia is an exaggerated and irrational fear.

      You say, 'Many psychologists speculate that this irrational fear is triggered by a traumatic event such as becoming stuck or getting locked-in.'

      The condition to result from circumstances like above would be a post-traumatic condition, not a phobia.

      'A burned child dreads the fire', they say. They don't say 'A burned child is pyrophobic'. Hardly anyone comes too close twice - which is reasonable.

      Fear has been condemned in many cultures. Interestingly, the more primitive the culture, the more 'fearless' would be its ethos - human groups inferior in their civilizational progress would seek a resolve in forcing 'fearless' behavior on the individual to serve the interests of the group.

      Well, the disadvantage being that the behavior hardly could respect the self-preservation instinct... I put the word 'fearless' in quotes as self-abandonment, especially forced, would be associative of desperation more than courage.

      I think it's normal to be sometimes scared or anxious. Naturally, I do not mean vegetative conditions.