Causes of phobias

Throughout the last few decades, scientists, psychologists and doctors have researched and analyzed many people who suffer from different kinds of Phobia. The first thing to note here is once more that Phobias are extremely complex and there is no way to tell with 100% certainty that someone is suffering from a phobia.


However, there are clear indications that the majority of phobias develop during early childhood, teenage years or early adulthood. It is rather unusual for a phobia to develop ‘out of nowhere’ after the age of 30 – 35. Phobias can be caused by stressful situations, certain experiences or frightening events. It is also known that children can develop the same phobia one of their parents suffered from if they were progressively aware of this during childhood.

Causes for Simple Phobias

Specific (or simple) phobias often seem to develop in early childhood between the ages of 4 and 8 years old. Certain events in life or unpleasant experiences can often plant a seed, which will grow overtime and slowly turn into some sort of phobia. For instance, an unpleasant experience in a confined (or small) space could potentially lead to claustrophobia in a later stage of life.

Doctors have found that phobias aren’t necessarily genetically inherited from either of the parents. However, if a child is progressively aware of one of its parents’ phobia, chances are much higher that this child will develop the same (or a similar) phobia during later stages in life. For instance, if a mother suffers from Arachnophobia (fear of spiders) then it is much more likely for her daughter to develop the same phobia as well, simply because she was highly aware of her mother’s fear throughout childhood.

Causes for Complex Phobias

Like the name suggests, the causes for complex and/or social phobias are still shrouded in clouds of mystery and ambiguity. Scientists believe that the complex phobias are often caused by a combination of genetics, brain chemistry and certain life experiences. It is said that social phobias are more likely to be caused by a very stressful experience than agoraphobia. 

Some say that there may be an evolutionary explanation for some kinds of phobias. In ancient times for instance, staying outside in a wide and open field would increase the risk of getting caught by other dangerous predators. Therefore it’s only logical that for many people, especially for young children, there is a strong instinct for staying safe at home.

Furthermore, today’s social phobias could have been a potential survival instinct in ancient times. Staying with a group of strangers (people from another tribe perhaps) was much more dangerous thousands of years ago than it is now. Not many people today in a crowded shopping mall will want to fight you over your freshly caught deer…

Ptsd-brainAnother highly acceptable cause for complex phobias may be found in the field of neuroscience. Some areas of the brain (see picture) are known to store information about dangerous and even deadly events. If a similar event is confronted sometime in the future, the brain will automatically recall those old memories and make the body react as if it were a recurrence.


Because phobias are irrational phenomena, sometimes it’s possible to treat sufferers by managing to get the brain to replace the bad and negative memories of certain events with something more logical and rational. However, the areas of the brain that deal with fear often keep retrieving the ‘bad’ memories. This makes it extremely difficult to find a highly effective clinical treatment for complex phobias.