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Arachnophobia: causes and symptoms of extreme fear of spiders

Arachnophobia: causes and symptoms of extreme fear of spiders

March 16, 2023

Spiders often come into contact with us and with our homes. To be so small can enter our rooms, and stay there feeding for a while of other insects. Some species can be dangerous (although they usually live in specific territories), but for the most part they do not suppose for the human being more than a relative annoyance or an unwanted host.

However, some people have a terrible and excessive panic about some of these beings. These people present severe difficulties and extreme reactions to the visualization or even the evocation in the imagination of these creatures. It's about people suffering from arachnophobia .

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Arachnophobia: a specific phobia

Arachnophobia is the phobia and / or extreme repulsion towards the set of arachnids and especially the spiders. This disorder is classified as a specific phobia generated by animals. It can generate a high level of discomfort or a certain deterioration of the functionality of the subject.

Within specific phobias it is one of the most common, and generally tends to be more prevalent in the female sex. As a phobia, it's about an intense and disproportionate fear regarding the level of threat that can suppose the feared stimulus in question, disproportion that is recognized as irrational by the sufferer. The presence of this causes high levels of anxiety (the fear suffered can generate anxiety crisis), which behavioral level tends to avoid or flee from the stimulus (is the case of arachnophobia, spiders).

Symptoms of arachnophobia include nausea, anxiety, sweating, tachycardia, escape behaviors and avoidance or paralysis, anxiety crises or crying spells among others when seeing or evoking an arachnid. In very extreme cases, even perceptual alterations may occur. Fear can also appear early in situations in which it is likely that the animal in question appears or towards the products of its performance, such as cobwebs.

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The causes of spider phobia have often been discussed by the various professionals who have treated its etiology.

One of the most plausible hypotheses is linked to The preparation theory of Seligman , which proposes that certain stimuli are linked to specific responses due to the genetic transmission of behavioral tendencies that may be protective for the human being. Relating this theory to the concrete case of arachnophobia, the human species would have learned throughout its evolution that arachnids were potentially deadly dangerous animals, with which modern human beings would have inherited a natural tendency to avoid them.

Another theory is based on the idea of that arachnophobia originates from learning , being an acquired response that has been enhanced by a conditioning process. The experience of a negative event related to spiders (for example being bitten or knowing someone who died before the bite of a poisonous species), especially during the period of childhood, causes the association of arachnids with anxiety and fear. which in turn generates avoidance as an escape mechanism, which in turn reinforces this fear.

From a biological perspective, the influence of different hormones such as noradrenaline and serotonin at the regular time the level of fear felt, which could cause a response learned socially or inherited phylogenetically and that most people do not cause problems cause the appearance of extreme reactions.

Treatment of arachnophobia

The treatment of first choice to fight arachnophobia is usually exposure therapy , in which the subject must be gradually exposed to a hierarchy of stimuli linked to contact with spiders. You can start with simple stimuli such as photographs or videos, to later go forward to the viewing of real cobwebs and finally to the presentation of a real arachnid at different distances (being able to touch it).

Generally it is usually more effective to make this exposure live, but also it can be done in imagination If the level of anxiety is very high or even introductory to a live exposure.

The use of new technologies also allows new modes of exposure, both in the case of arachnophobia and in other phobias, such as exposure through virtual reality or augmented reality which allows a more tolerable and safe approach than that made in alive (after all, the image to be visualized can be controlled and the subject knows that it is not before a real spider).

It is often useful to perform relaxation techniques in response to the phobic stimulus or in preparation for it, such as breathing or progressive muscle relaxation , in order to reduce the level of anxiety that will be felt.In this sense, sometimes benzodiazepines can be prescribed to control the level of anxiety or panic in people in situations of frequent contact with these beings or who are immersed in exposure therapies.

Bibliographic references:

  • American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Fifth edition. DSM-V. Masson, Barcelona.
  • Santos, J.L. ; García, L.I. ; Calderón, M.A. ; Sanz, L.J .; de los Ríos, P .; Left, S .; Román, P .; Hernangómez, L .; Navas, E .; Thief, A and Álvarez-Cienfuegos, L. (2012). Clinical psychology. CEDE Preparation Manual PIR, 02. CEDE. Madrid.

Symptoms of Phobia (March 2023).

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