The Detriment of our Ignorance on Different Fears

According to Self Help Collective, some of the top fears include flying, public speaking, heights, and spiders. For most, this doesn’t come as a surprise. After all, it’s likely that you have experienced one of these fears at one point in your life. So, if someone were to cower with panic on an airplane or before giving a speech, the situation wouldn’t be that unusual, and most would garner sympathy. After all, fear can be paralyzing.

However, what if an individual were to refuse to attend prom or a pep rally because of crowds? Would it gain the same reaction as a fear of flying?

Unfortunately, the answer is usually no. Ochlophobia is a form of social anxiety in which just the thought of crowds provoke massive amount of anxiety. Despite symptoms of nausea and an increased heart rate, which accompany most phobias, this fear is likely to be ridiculed or dismissed. As someone who has personally experienced Ochlophobia , I can testify to the eye rolls and confusion that are often associated with the fear of crowds.

The explanation for this can be chalked down to two imperative psychological terms: the false consensus effect and the availability heuristic.

The false consensus effect occurs when we overestimate how much others agree with our views, opinions, beliefs, etc. This includes our fears. If we are terrified of flying, for example, we tend to assume most people are at least a little uncomfortable with planes as well. However, this also works for what we do not fear. Because some fears, such as crowds, wind, or public transportation, aren’t widely shared, we don’t think others have these phobias.

Thus, when an individual refuses to attend prom to avoid this fear, we don’t consider their anxiety- we make judgments that are often unrelated to the actual issue and only worsen their distress.

Moreover, the availability heuristic furthers the problem of our lack of understanding different fears. According to Behavioral Finance, the availability heuristic is the tendency to cast judgement, make a decision, or to arrive at an assumption based on information that is readily available in our minds. For example, because several people are afraid of spiders and it’s often portrayed on movies or television shows, arachnophobia is deemed a valid fear. On the other hand, it’s not as often that we hear about an individual who  is petrified of standing in the middle of a pep rally. So, rather than understanding this fear, we chalk their avoidance to less merited, and untrue, actions, like a lack of school spirit.

With these two psychological concepts battling in our minds, it’s not difficult to see the impact this has on individuals who struggle with less common fears. Fortunately, there is a solution to this crippling problem.

The underlying cause behind the false consensus effect and the availability heuristic is that we constantly surround ourselves with people who are similar to us. This causes us to be narrow-minded and unaware of other’s thoughts and fears. In order to better understand phobias we don’t know about, broadening your horizons and educating yourself on different phobias will clue you in to the different provokers of anxiety.



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