Musophobia: extreme fear of mice and rodents in general
The universe of specific phobias is almost endless . Let's say that we could describe as many specific phobias as there are people in the world, the result of individual variability, that is why in nosological manuals only the most frequent ones appear.
For example, we can find people who are afraid of humans (anthropophobia), beards (pogonophobia), stairs (batmophobia), flowers (anthropophobia), dust and dirt (amatofobia) and many more. being these phobias uncommon.
In this article we are going to talk about a relatively common type of specific phobia, which can be categorized into animal phobias: the musophobia .
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What is musophobia?
The DSM-IV-TR and the DSM-5 distinguish different types of specific phobias (APA, 2000, 2013):
- Animal : Fear is caused by one or more types of animals. The most feared animals are usually snakes, spiders, insects, cats, rats, mice and birds (Antony and Barlow, 1997).
- Natural environment: storms, wind, water, darkness.
- Blood / injections / body damage (SID).
- Situational : go by public transport, tunnels, bridges, elevators, fly by plane ...
- Another type: situations that can lead to choking or vomiting, fear of people in disguise ...
Thus, musophobia would consist of the intense and persistent fear or anxiety that is triggered by the presence of mice or rodents in general and / or the anticipation of them. According to the DSM-5, anxiety must be disproportionate to the danger or threat posed by the situation and to the sociocultural context. In addition, the phobia should last at least 6 months.
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Symptoms of this phobia
People with musophobia especially fear the movements of mice, especially if they are sudden; they may also fear their physical appearance, the sounds they emit and their tactile properties .
One of the defining psychological elements of musophobia in people who suffer from it is that it appears a disproportionate reaction of fear (by focusing on the perceived danger) and a sense of disgust or disgust.
Although the studies provide discordant data, the fear reaction seems to predominate before the reaction of disgust. In addition, both reactions are reduced with the Live Exhibition, as we will see in the Treatment section.
To protect themselves from unexpected encounters, people with musophobia can use various defensive behaviors: Overly check the sites to make sure there are no mice nearby or ask other people to do so, wear overprotective clothing when walking in the field, be accompanied by a trusted person and get away from a mouse that is seen.
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Age of onset and prevalence
In epidemiological studies with adults, the average age of onset is 8-9 years for animal phobia . There is no record of epidemiological data regarding musophobia.
Considering the different types of EF, the prevalence-life data obtained in the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (Stinson et al., 2007) were: natural environment (5.9%), situational (5.2%) , animal (4.7%) and SID (4.0%).
Causes (genesis and maintenance)
How does a person get to develop musophobia? Why do some children develop this fear? These questions can be answered following Barlow (2002), who differentiates three types of determining factors in order to develop a specific phobia such as musophobia:
1. Biological vulnerability
It consists of a neurobiological hypersensitivity to genetically determined stress and includes temperamental features that have a strong genetic component. Among the main ones are neuroticism, introversion, negative affectivity (stable and heritable tendency to experience a wide range of negative feelings) and behavioral inhibition in the face of the unknown .
2. Generalized psychological vulnerability
It is the perception, based on early experiences, that stressful situations and / or reactions to them are unpredictable and / or uncontrollable. Within the early experiences are the overprotective educational style (hypercontroller), rejection by parents, unsafe ties of attachment , occurrence of traumatic events in coexistence with ineffective strategies to cope with stress.
3. Specific psychological vulnerability
It is based on the person's learning experiences. The anxiety resulting from the generalized biological and psychological vulnerability focuses on certain situations or events (p.eg, mice), which happen to be considered as a threat or even dangerous. For example, a direct negative experience with a mouse in childhood It can generate a learning experience that the animal is threatening and dangerous.
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Psychological treatment of musophobia
Although it has been stated that phobic fears may remit without treatment in childhood and adolescence, the general trend does not seem to be this one.
The most effective and known treatment is cognitive-behavioral with live exposure (EV). Before beginning the EV, it is convenient to give information about the mice and to correct possible erroneous beliefs about them.
A hierarchy of exposure must also be carried out, taking into account the subjective levels of anxiety of the person. Some ideas to work the dreaded and / or avoided situations are: talk about the animal, see photos or videos of mice, go to animal stores where there are mice, touch and caress the mice and feed them ... Another option is employ exposure through virtual reality .
Participant modeling to treat musophobia
The EV can be used alone or combined with the modeling, with what is known as participant modeling; This combination has been really useful for treating animal-type phobias.
At each step of the hierarchy the therapist or other model (s) repeatedly or repeatedly exemplifies the relevant activity, explain, if necessary, how to perform the activity and give information about the objects or situations feared (in our case, about the mice ).
After modeling a task, the therapist asks the client to execute it and provides you with social reinforcement for your progress and corrective feedback .
If the person has difficulties or does not dare to carry out the task, various aids are provided. For example, in the case of musophobia could be cited: joint action with the therapist, limitation of mouse movements, means of protection (gloves), reduction of the time required in the task, increase of the distance to the feared object, re-modeling the threatening activity, use of multiple models, company of loved ones or domestic animals.
These aids are withdrawn until the client is able to perform the task with relative ease and on his own (self-directed practice); therefore the therapist should not be present. Self-directed practice must be done in a variety of contexts to favor generalization.