What Are The Most Common Phobias, And What Are The Psychological Causes Of Them?


Are you afraid of spiders, heights, or clowns? Well, you’re not alone. But just what is the most common phobia?

Our fears of seemingly trivial things can seem irrational at times, but these are fears shared by millions of people. Even something as harmless as a mouse can strike fear in a grown adult.

For many phobias, we've got a decent idea of what causes them. For others, the jury is still out – and some are yet to be recognized as official phobias.

Using data from a survey by YouGov, which had a relatively large sample of 2,088 adults, we're going to run through the top 10 in their list, from most to least common, and explain a bit about each.

Let’s begin.

1. Heights

In first place, the most common phobia is the fear of heights. Twenty-three percent of respondents said they were very afraid of heights, while 35 percent said they were a little afraid. People tended to get more fearful as they got older, too.

This is known as acrophobia, which comes from the Greek ákron meaning peak or edge. This phobia appears to stem from an inability to perceive vertical dimensions.

Research suggests that people with this phobia overestimate vertical distances, and those with the biggest miscalculation have the strongest fear of heights. It’s not clear which one drives the other, however.

Jethro Stamps/Shutterstock

2. Snakes

In second place, with 21 percent of people very afraid and 31 percent a little afraid, it’s the humble snake.

Yes, for some there is no greater terror than seeing one of these slippery reptiles making their way along the ground. Known as ophidiophobia, it’s a bit irrational as most snakes are completely harmless.

Recent research suggests that infants have an innate fear of snakes when they are born, meaning it is a result of nature and not nurture. Despite their mostly harmless nature, the fear may be a survival instinct that’s hard-wired into humans.

3. Public speaking

The fear of standing up in front of a crowd and talking, known as glossophobia, is the third most common phobia. Twenty percent of respondents were very afraid of public speaking, with 36 percent a little afraid.

For some people, speech anxiety can be anything from just a slight nervy feeling to being completely frozen in fear. The exact psychology behind it isn’t certain, but what’s clear is that it affects a lot of people.

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