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How Common Is a Fear of Animals?

Children may become afraid of dogs that bark at them.
Many people have an instinctive fear of spiders, a phobia that is justified when encountering the poisonous black widow.
Even cute kittens can cause fear in those who have zoophobia, which is a fear of animals.
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  • Written By: Amanda R. Bell
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 28 August 2014
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The fear of animals, also known as zoophobia, is arguably one of the most common fears in the world. While the fear of all animals is rare, the fear of specific animals is common, especially among children. These fears vary by certain factors and by location and is usually centered on native animals that may or may not do the most harm. Researchers believe that one in five people will develop a fear of animals at some point in their life. The fear of spiders, birds, and bees are generally the most common experienced by the general population, with the fear of dogs and snakes also near the top of the list.

The severity of a phobia is typical centered on four factors: unpredictability, dangerousness, disgust, and uncontrollability. Animals that rank highest in these four categories are typically on the list of no-goes for those with a fear of animals. While those who experience true zoophobia, which is rare, take issue with all non-human animals, the vast majority of the population has an extreme dislike for one or more specific animals. The severity of the dislike, and associated symptoms such as trouble breathing and panic attacks, separate common fears from a phobia.

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How common these fears are typically depends on the location. In the U.S., for example, where most people live in towns or cities, experience with dangerous animals may be much rarer than in other countries where dangerous animals are more of a part of daily life. The areas with a high population of dangerous animals tend to experience an increased rate of fear of animals. Dogs seem to stir up the most common feelings of fear in the U.S., as there is a large population of them and people encounter them often. In Australia, however, the most common fear of animals is arachnophobia because of the dangerous spider population in the area.

While one in five people are expected to develop a fear of one or more animals at some point in life, fear of animals is most common in small children, especially those under age 10. For children who typically possess a limited understanding of the world, the four factors that cause this fear are much more pronounced. While an adult may understand that a barking dog is only asking for a quick petting, a child may not. Although many children come to outgrow their fears, zoophobia is still one of the most common fears in adults.

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irontoenail
Post 3

@pleonasm - It's not always that simple though. I mean, a lot of people are scared of spiders and they are usually quite small. I know people who won't even use images when they surf the internet in case they come across a picture of a spider, they loathe them that much. Which I find bizarre, because I don't know if there is any object or creature that I couldn't bear to see to the point where I actively avoided pictures of it.

pleonasm
Post 2

@Fa5t3r - Did he really need to scare a kid and possibly scar him for life in order to prove that though? I mean, there are plenty of people around who are dealing with panic attacks due to some kind of negative association with an animal that he could have studied without doing it himself.

My nephew was absolutely terrified of dogs for a while, because he was knocked over by one in the park when he was about four years old. He didn't even remember being knocked down, but he still remembered to be afraid. Fortunately, after a while he stopped being so nervous around them, but I suspect that might also be because he grew to the point where they weren't able to tower over him anymore.

Fa5t3r
Post 1

There was actually a study once where a scientist tried to create a phobia in a young child by showing him a rat and then scaring him with a very loud noise.

Apparently the association got strong enough that the child basically developed anxiety and panic attacks whenever he was shown a rat or mouse, when he previously showed no fear of them.

This kind of study hopefully wouldn't be done today, but I suppose it did show that people can develop phobias as a response to a traumatic event.

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