Arachnophobia excessive fear of spiders

Sherman Hoover
Arachnophobia excessive fear of spiders


  • What is the difference between a fear of spiders and arachnophobia?
  • Arachnophobia diagnosis
  • Why does arachnophobia develop?
  • Other causes of arachnophobia
    • Evolutionary processes
    • Cultural and social mechanisms
  • Arachnophobia treatment
    • 1. Simple exposure therapy or combined with other techniques
    • 2. Memory disruption
    • 3. Cognitive reconstruction technique
    • 4. Perceptual Control Therapy
    • 5. Total choice of the patient regarding the degree of exposure: virtual mode
    • Conclution
    • Links

What is the difference between a fear of spiders and arachnophobia?

The fear of arachnids is very common. However, arachnophobia is an inordinate or excessive fear of spiders and the person who suffers from it avoids direct contact with them or with any situation or place where they might find them, it produces significant emotional anguish that can lead to to be paralyzing.

The patients show high values ​​of anxiety and rejection of confrontation. Even the simple representation such as photographs, movements or associated images, can evoke psychological and physiological responses that are manifested in avoidance behaviors, high levels of stress, anguish and anxiety mainly.

The process of avoiding spiders can have a significant impact on daily activities, when arachnophobes live, work or study in a place where it is natural to find one or the other. It is good to keep in mind that spiders have the ability to live almost anywhere, there is a great diversity of them, the main niche of spiders, in almost all ecosystems, is the control of insect populations, although they carry out other important functions that help balance. Reasons why it is highly favorable that people with this specific phobia treat themselves, so they can cope with less anguish and anxiety in a world where spiders coexist with humans.

Although most people with arachnophobia are usually able to identify that their thoughts are irrational or unlikely to happen, they cannot avoid having that feeling of uncontrollable anguish and anxiety in many cases.

The amygdala is strongly linked to fear, affecting brain activity and behavior. The activation of the nervous system, due to intense fear, can provoke physiological responses such as: alteration in breathing, tachycardia and sweating, for example; may be due to the presence of the phobic stimulus and anticipatory reactions to specific situations.

Uncontrollable adverse experiences lead to greater distress, studies show that up to 30% of all people who suffer from an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives, so it is essential that new coping strategies are learned and that help the patient to have a good management of it in situations that trigger it. Anxiety leads to great suffering for those who suffer from it and has harmful effects on health.

Arachnophobia diagnosis

According to the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), the pathological fear of animals, in this case spiders, is classified as a subtype of animal-specific phobia. Therefore, people with arachnophobia will show marked, persistent and excessive anxiety when they encounter spiders or in situations that they could encounter, such as in old houses, kitchens, caves, etc. Here is a comparative chart with the DSM-V and ICD-10 criteria for the diagnosis of specific phobias:

DSM-V criteria for the diagnosis of Specific PhobiaICD-10 Criteria for the Diagnosis of Specific Phobia (Isolated or Simple)
A. Fear or anxiety about a specific object or situation (eg, flying, heights, animals, giving an injection, seeing blood). Note: In children, fear or anxiety can be expressed by crying, tantrums, freezing, or clinging..

B. The phobic object or situation is actively avoided or resisted with intense fear or anxiety. The phobic object or situation is actively avoided or resisted with immediate fear or anxiety.

D. The fear or anxiety is disproportionate to the real danger posed by the specific object or situation and to the sociocultural context.

E. The fear or anxiety or avoidance is persistent, typically lasting more than 6 months.

F. Fear or anxiety or avoidance causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

G. The disturbance is not better explained by symptoms of another mental disorder, such as fear, anxiety, and avoidance of situations associated with panic symptoms or other disabling symptoms (such as agoraphobia); objects or situations related to obsessions (such as obsessive-compulsive disorder); memory of traumatic events (such as post-traumatic stress disorder); leaving home or separation from attachment figures (as in separation anxiety disorder); or social situations (such as social anxiety disorder).

Phobias restricted to very specific situations such as the proximity of certain animals, heights, thunder, darkness, traveling by plane, closed spaces, having to use public urinals, eating certain foods, going to the dentist, to the sight of blood or wounds or the contagion of specific diseases. Although the triggering situation is very specific and concrete, its presence can produce panic such as agoraphobia and in social phobias. Specific phobias usually appear for the first time in childhood or early adult life and, if left untreated, can persist for decades. The degree of disability they produce depends on how easy it is for the patient to avoid the phobic situation. The fear of the phobic situation tends to be stable, contrary to what happens in agoraphobia.

Guidelines for diagnosis

I. Symptoms, psychological or vegetative, are primary manifestations of anxiety and not secondary to other symptoms, such as delusional or obsessive ideas.

II. This anxiety is limited to the presence of specific phobic objects or situations.

III. These situations are avoided, as far as possible.

Researchers from the Max Planck Institute of the Human and Cognitive Sciences area in Leipzig, Germany and the University of Uppsala in Sweden, affirm that: “Phobias of snakes and spiders affect between 1 and 5% of the population, while a third of children and adults report having a strong aversion to them, although neither of the two animals represents a real threat to human beings in most places around the world ".

Why does arachnophobia develop?

There are several reasons why a specific type of phobia like this can flourish, although the reasons are usually multifactorial. Dr. Tali Leibovich, a researcher in Zlotowski Neurosciences, showed that spider size estimation is affected by both the level of dislike and the great fear that participants had of spiders; patients with very marked arachnophobias overestimated the size of the spider or saw it larger than it actually was and said:

"This study reveals how the perception of even a basic function such as size is influenced by emotion, and shows how each of us experiences the world in a unique and different way."

Is it fear that causes disturbances in spiders' size perception among arachnophobics, or is it perhaps that disturbance in size perception that causes fear in the first place? This peculiar phenomenon is currently being investigated, trying to answer these interesting questions and may serve as a basis for the development of more effective treatments in the future..

Other causes of arachnophobia

Evolutionary processes

Research has found that phobias can develop through evolutionary processes, because human beings are predisposed to develop fear of things that threatened security, neuroscientist Stefanie Hoehl and collaborators from the University of Vienna stated that:

"Children could be innately predisposed to pay attention to spiders and snakes or even fear them, as in primates, the mechanisms of our brain allow us to identify objects such as spider or snake and react to them very quickly."

The researchers tracked the pupil dilation of the study subjects with an infrared eye tracker, the pupils dilate when the brain releases a neurotransmitter called norepinephrine, it is a signal of the stress response that prepares the body to be in a state alert and vigilant.

"This obviously inherited stress reaction, in turn, predisposes us to learn that these animals are dangerous or unpleasant. When you add other factors to this, it can turn into a real fear or even phobia." Stefanie hoehl

Cultural and social mechanisms

The fear of spiders is also promoted through cultural and social mechanisms, generally spiders are associated with something dangerous and threatening; the person maximizes threats and minimizes their ability to handle the situation in the face of the phobic stimulus. However, the fear of spiders can be triggered due to an unpleasant experience from the past: with a spider or also as a learned behavior. When negative interactions are mixed with sociocultural messages about spiders, it can easily lead to fear and distress..

Arachnophobia treatment

Arachnophobia is treatable and patients usually have good prognoses when adhering to psychological treatment, some studies showing approximately 90% of people have clinically significant improvements in spider related anxiety when treated.

Long, deep breaths during anxiety states modify them. It can be alternated with the applied muscular tension, to reduce the same before the phobic stimulus or the anticipatory thoughts associated with the phobia, they can be carried out in a complementary way to the therapy.

1. Simple exposure therapy or combined with other techniques

An effective and widely used treatment to treat arachnophobia is exposure therapy, it is based on the idea that a person with arachnophobia has the belief that "something ominous and catastrophic" can happen when faced with a spider, and because of who avoid contact with spiders, do not have the opportunity to confirm that what they fear will not actually happen.

It can be gradually depending on the speed of habituation of the patient and his particular analysis, it is not suggested to apply it in pregnant women or people suffering from heart conditions, diabetes and high blood pressure.

It requires the person to confront the spider, either real or virtual; thus, the patient can measure the actual threat level. The role of client control during psychological interventions gives the psychologist a guideline to help the patient establish more adaptive ways of reacting to stimuli that generate aversion, stress and anxiety..

Systematic desensitization also comes in here, which is a process by which the patient gets used to spiders gradually, generally, seeking to modify their responses to the aversive stimulus..

2. Memory disruption

In a new study published in the journal Current Biology, researchers from Uppsala University have shown that the effect of exposure therapy can be enhanced by interrupting fear reenactment, and by modifying memories in people with arachnophobia..

The patient is gradually exposed to the object or context that elicits the reactions. If exposure therapy is successful, a new 'safe' memory is formed, overshadowing the memory of fear. Learning has not been shown to be permanent, however, memory modification can have more lasting effects.

3. Cognitive reconstruction technique

This method suggests that the anxiety and anguish that occurs during phobias is related to the predisposition to information processing associated with the threat or danger posed by arachnids or some situation related to them..

The person with arachnophobia may ask: how could he or she cope in the best way? And try to generate optimal coping strategies, they can contribute to cognitive restructuring, reinforcing with the exposure technique, for example.

The individual can learn that the situation does not represent a danger as he thinks, by having the opportunity to be in contact with the phobic stimulus. Dr. Sophie Li, led a workshop at the Australian Museum, which aimed to “arm” the participants with information, using cognitive behavioral therapy and controlled exposure, neither more nor less than: with the Museum copies! "People with phobias often have a skill deficit, they don't know how to interact with the things they fear, and this lack of confidence can exacerbate fear," he said. Used arachnids from the Museum's exhibit, both living and dead.

Subsequently, the participants were shown what to do if they find a spider in their home, how to capture it and take it outside, and if they feel up to it, they can do a test by allowing the spider to walk on their arms, legs, face and hair; It is voluntary, because that is how they say it is more effective.

4. Perceptual Control Therapy

We propose to create virtual experiences where the patient can move an image of the spider closer or further on a computer screen or other mobile devices, the people who had control over their virtual distance from the spider, could be more near a spider after completing the task. The emotional link between perception and memory is strong.

Within this type of therapy, the patient learns to control his own behavior, despite external environmental variables, modifying and controlling his own perceptions regarding these variables. Numerous virtual simulations of specific behavioral situations demonstrate its effectiveness, it is carried out by levels and provides a practical operating model for patients, the results can be seen faster than treatments where exhaustive introspection is used.

"It is vital that the patient take control over his experience and over important elements of the environment, such as sources of threat, because self-control is essential for health and well-being." Dr. Mansell. Journal of Anxiety Disorders

5. Total choice of the patient regarding the degree of exposure: virtual mode

Another modality of application of virtual reality suggests that once people are aware of their mixed motives, they can make decisions and respond to their fears in more appropriate ways. For this reason, in this method, patients are allowed a total choice about their degree of exposure, they can manipulate the degree of control and their movement by means of a joystick, as in a video game, and determine their virtual distance from the camera. picture a spider on the screen. Patients with high control over exposure were able to get closer to a spider and reported fewer avoidance behaviors after an average of 17 days.

“A simple modification of existing treatments could possibly improve the effects. This means that more people can get rid of their anxieties after treatment and have fewer relapses. Johannes Björkstrand. Uppsala University.

The activation of memory before exposure, attenuates the expression of fears and decreases the activity of the amygdala during fear provocation, increasing the ability to approach.

"Disruption in the construction of memories or reconsolidation, associated with the phobia of spiders facilitates the behaviors of approach, has effects on long-term memory and on the brain amygdala." Johannes Björkstrand


People with arachnophobia have a good prognosis when they begin a therapeutic process of their choice, many patients report prompt improvement in their symptoms with the combination of different strategies offered by psychologists..

Much progress is being made in the research of specific phobias, and this offers hope for better treatment for patients with specific anxiety disorders and phobias, such as arachnophobes. The psychological treatment of arachnophobia is advisable in case of meeting several criteria previously described here, especially if that fear is interfering in the usual life of the sufferer, because we can find spiders in almost all parts of the world. New technologies combined with other techniques make the treatment of phobias more versatile and even “fun”.


  • Andrew Lavin - Ben-Gurion University of the Negev Original research: Full open access research for “Itsy bitsy spider ?: Valence and self-relevance predict size estimation” by Tali Leibovich, Noga Cohen, and Avishai Henik in Biological Psychology. Published on January 21 2016 doi: 10.1016 / j.biopsycho.2016.01.009 This work was supported by the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union's Seventh Framework Program (FP7 / 2007-2013) / ERC Grant Agreement 295644 to AH.
  • "Disrupting Reconsolidation Attenuates Long-Term Fear Memory in the Human Amygdala and Facilitates Approach Behavior" by Johannes Björkstrand, Thomas Agren, Fredrik Åhs, Andreas Frick, Elna-Marie Larsson, Olof Hjorth, Tomas Furmark, and Mats Fredrikson in Current Biology. Published on August 25 2016 doi: 10.1016 / j.cub.2016.08.022
  • Johannes Björkstrand - Uppsala University Original research: “Disrupting Reconsolidation Attenuates Long-Term Fear Memory in the Human Amygdala and Facilitates Approach Behavior” by Johannes Björkstrand, Thomas Agren, Fredrik Åhs, Andreas Frick, Elna-Marie Larsson, Olof Hjorth, Tomas-Marie Furmark , and Mats Fredrikson in Current Biology. Published online August 25, 2016 doi: 10.1016 / j.cub.2016.08.022

Yet No Comments