Fears and phobias: their origins


It is assumed that the fears are necessary for the human species because they have promoted survival. Those of our ancestors who did not feel enough fear may have survived in smaller numbers and had fewer offspring than their more conservative counterparts: not having enough fear of the dark, fire, vacuum… could result in injury or death.

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That’s why the “natural” fears are universal and do not need to be learned by education or with some experiments.

How to explain excessive fears?

It is sometimes found in the past of some people phobic traumatic events: road traffic accident resulting in the driving phobia, bite leading to an excessive fear of dogs…

However, the phobia occurs most often without any past trauma.

We know that some phobias can be learned through the excessive fears of the parents.

Parents can induce excessive fear in their children by hammering home their prudence instructions and distressing recommendations. Even if parents are careful not to allow to filter their own fears, their children will be able to identify when a parent is very tense in some situations.

This way of acquiring fears are well known.


Many studies have demonstrated the existence of brain circuits involved in emotional phenomena and especially fear. These circuits connecting the cortex (brain area) to subcortical structures (deep brain structures) are called limbic. Hyper-stimulation of these circuits may be the cause of excessive anxiety.

Different structures are involved in these circuits and in particular the amygdala. We know for example that a lesion of this structure in mice causes a loss of feeling of fear which results in the ability to approach an anesthetized cat to nibble his ears. Biological disturbances in this region could, among other things, cause undue anxiety symptoms.


Psychoanalysts are based on Freud’s theories to seek to explain the origin of a phobia. In psychoanalysis, there is a hidden symbolism behind phobic symptoms. Unconscious conflicts, repressed sexuality problems, or trauma during childhood explain phobic anxiety disorders.


The origin of phobias is probably based on a psychological aspect and a family biological vulnerability, a real propensity for phobia, that education and life experiences will strengthen or otherwise avert.

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