- What to Do If You Suffer From Acrophobia
- Acrophobia, the Fear of Heights
- Acrophobia: Causes & Signs | Rehabs Treatment
- Disorders and Phobias Related to Acrophobia
- Find Treatment for Acrophobia Today
- Acrophobia: What is it, symptoms and how to get over it?
- 1- Acrophobia from traumatic events
- 2- Fear of Heights since birth
- 3-Cognitive biased in Acrophobia
- Fear of heights-Consequences
- 1. Avoidance behaviors of acrophobes
- 2. Acrophobes relinquish usual activities
- 3. Acrophobia work problems
- 4. Acrophobes general decline in quality of life
- Is vertigo the same as fear of heights?
- How to overcome the phobia to heights?
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
- Acrophobia (The Fear of Heights): Are You Acrophobic?
- Symptoms of Acrophobia
- Causes of Acrophobia
- Treatment Options
- Action Steps
- Acrophobia, or why are some people are afraid of heights
- What is acrophobia?
- Are we born with a fear of heights?
- Do we learn to be afraid of heights?
- Can it be treated?
What to Do If You Suffer From Acrophobia
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Acrophobia is defined as a fear of heights. Un a specific phobia such as aerophobia, which is the fear of flying, acrophobia can cause you to fear a variety of things related to being far from the ground. Depending on the phobia's severity, you may fear being on a high floor of a building as much as simply climbing a ladder.
Conditions that are related to acrophobia and may occur with it include:
- Vertigo: True vertigo is a medical condition that causes a sensation of spinning and dizziness. Illyngophobia is a phobia in which the fear of developing vertigo can actually lead to vertigo- symptoms. Acrophobia can induce similar feelings, but the three conditions are not the same. See a doctor for tests if you experience vertigo symptoms. Medical tests may include blood work, computed tomography (CT) scans, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which can rule out a variety of neurological conditions.
- Bathmophobia: The fear of slopes and stairs, called bathmophobia, is sometimes related to acrophobia. In bathmophobia, you may panic when viewing a steep slope, even if you have no need to climb it. Although many people with bathmophobia have acrophobia, most acrophobia sufferers do not also experience bathmophobia.
- Climacophobia: This fear is related to bathmophobia, except that it generally occurs only when you're contemplating making a climb. If you suffer from climacophobia, you're probably not afraid to see a steep set of stairs as long as you can remain safely at the bottom. However, climacophobia may occur in tandem with acrophobia.
- Aerophobia: This is the specific fear of flying. Depending on the severity of your fear, you may be afraid of airports and airplanes, or may only feel the fear when you're in the air. Aerophobia may occasionally occur alongside acrophobia.
Emotionally and physically, the response to acrophobia is similar to the response to any other phobia. You may never experience vertigo symptoms, but you may experience the following with acrophobia:
- Emotional Symptoms: You may feel a sense of panic when you perceive that you're high off the ground. You may instinctively begin to search for something to cling to and find that you're unable to trust your own sense of balance. Common reactions include descending immediately, crawling on all fours, and kneeling or otherwise lowering your body.
- Physical Symptoms: You may begin to shake, sweat, experience heart palpitations, and even cry or yell out. You may feel terrified and paralyzed. It might become difficult to think.
- Anxiety and Avoidance: If you have acrophobia, it's ly that you will begin to dread situations that may cause you to spend time in high places. For example, you may worry that an upcoming vacation will put you in a hotel room on a high floor. You may put off home repairs for fear of using a ladder. You might avoid visiting friends' homes if they have balconies or upstairs picture windows.
The biggest danger that most phobias present is the risk of limiting your life and activities to avoid the feared situation. However, acrophobia is unusual in that having a panic attack while high off the ground could actually lead to the imagined danger.
The situation may be safe as long as normal precautions are taken, but panicking could lead you to make unsafe moves.
It's extremely important that your acrophobia is professionally treated as quickly as possible, particularly if heights are a regular part of your life.
Research shows that a certain amount of reluctance around heights is normal, not only for humans but for all visual animals. In 1960, famed research psychologists Eleanor J. Gibson and Richard D.
Walk did ” The Visual Cliff” experiment which showed crawling infants, along with babies of numerous species, refusing to cross a thick glass panel that covered an apparently sharp drop-off.
The presence of the infant's mother, encouragingly calling him, did not convince the baby that it was safe.
Therefore, acrophobia seems to be at least partially ingrained, possibly as an evolutionary survival mechanism. Nonetheless, most children and adults use caution but are not inordinately afraid of heights.
Acrophobia, all phobias, appears to be a hyper-reaction of the normal fear response.
Many experts believe that this may be a learned response to either a previous fall or a parent's nervous reaction to heights.
Acrophobia can share certain symptoms with vertigo, a medical disorder with a variety of possible causes, as well as with other specific phobias. For these reasons, if you experience the signs of acrophobia, it's extremely important to seek professional help as soon as possible.
Treatments for acrophobia include:
- Psychotherapy: Cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT, is the main treatment of choice for specific phobias. Behavioral techniques that expose you to the feared situation either gradually (systematic desensitization) or rapidly (flooding) are frequently used. In addition, you're taught ways of stopping the panic reaction and regaining emotional control.
- Exposure: Traditionally, actual exposure to heights is the most common solution. However, a research study published in 2017 demonstrated that virtual reality may be just as effective. A major advantage of virtual reality treatment is the savings in both cost and time, as there is no need for “on-location” therapist accompaniment. This method is not available everywhere, but with costs of virtual reality equipment coming down, it will ly be easier to access as time goes on.
- Medication: Sometimes sedatives or beta-blockers may be used for short-term relief in specific situations to help relieve the panic and anxiety you feel. The drug D-cycloserine has been in clinical trials for anxiety disorder treatment since 2008. A study in 2012 found that using the medication in tandem with cognitive-behavioral therapy may improve results. However, the study authors said more research on dosing and length of treatment time was needed.
- Relaxation: Doing yoga, deep breathing, meditation, or progressive muscle relaxation can help you cope with stress and anxiety. Regular exercise can help too.
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Coelho CM, Wallis G. Deconstructing acrophobia: physiological and psychological precursors to developing a fear of heights. Depress Anxiety. 2010;27(9):864-70. doi:10.1002/da.20698
Thompson TL, Amedee R. Vertigo: a review of common peripheral and central vestibular disorders. Ochsner J. 2009;9(1):20–26.
American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 5th ed. Washington D.C.: 2013.
Rodkey EN. The visual cliff's forgotten menagerie: rats, goats, babies, and myth-making in the history of psychology. J Hist Behav Sci. 2015;51(2):113-40. doi:10.1002/jhbs.21712
Donker T, Cornelisz I, Van klaveren C, et al. Effectiveness of Self-guided App-Based Virtual Reality Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Acrophobia: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Psychiatry. 2019;76(7):682-690. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2019.0219
Botella C, Fernández-Álvarez J, Guillén V, García-palacios A, Baños R. Recent Progress in Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy for Phobias: A Systematic Review. Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2017;19(7):42. doi:10.1007/s11920-017-0788-4
Bontempo A, Panza KE, Bloch MH. D-cycloserine augmentation of behavioral therapy for the treatment of anxiety disorders: a meta-analysis. J Clin Psychiatry. 2012;73(4):533–537. doi:10.4088/JCP.11r07356
Saeed SA, Cunningham K, Bloch RM. Depression and Anxiety Disorders: Benefits of Exercise, Yoga, and Meditation. Am Fam Physician. 2019;99(10):620-627.
Acrophobia, the Fear of Heights
What is the fear of heights?
Acrophobia: Causes & Signs | Rehabs Treatment
Acrophobia is an intense fear of heights, one that grips its victims with both severe physical symptoms and powerful psychological symptoms.
Un specific phobias pteromerhanophobia (fear of flying), acrophobia is a nonspecific fear of heights.
This means that some people living with the phobia are terrified of mountaintops while others exhibit symptoms of the phobia when they look out a second-story window.
No matter how your fear of heights manifests, mental health treatment can help. Learning how to cope with the symptoms of your fear can give you a control you’ve never had. It starts with a single phone call. Contact us today to find out more about how you can overcome your acrophobia. Counselors are standing by to take your call.
When you are scared of heights, you avoid a great many wonderful experiences in order to avoid panic and anxiety. How many trips or picturesque views will you miss? How many times will you turn around rather than cross a bridge? Treatment improves your quality of life and helps you regain control over your senses.
Disorders and Phobias Related to Acrophobia
Because acrophobia is a non-specific fear, there are a number of different types and related conditions. Does one of these sound something you’re experiencing?
- Pteromerhanophobia. The fear of flying, also known as aerophobia, is a specific phobia and also related to but not interchangeable with acrophobia. Those with this phobia will only be affected when they contemplate boarding an airplane or are actively in the air. In some cases, people suffer from pteromerhanophobia in addition to acrophobia.
- Bathmophobia. The fear of slopes or stairs is separate from acrophobia but can be a co-occurring phobia as well. Just viewing a steep hill can be too much – even if you don’t have to climb it.
- Climacophobia. This is the fear of climbing a hill or steep stairs – not just viewing it or standing on top of it. If you don’t have to climb the stairs, you experience no phobic symptoms but when you have to get to the top, it’s a problem. This too can occur in addition to acrophobia.
There is no known cause for acrophobia – or any other phobia, for that matter. There are, however, a number of theories. Some believe it may be related to a traumatic experience that occurred in childhood related to heights.
Others believe that it could be triggered by simply witnessing something frightening related to heights – for example, on television – at a young age. Still others believe it may be a primal protective response.
No matter the cause, one thing is clear: treatment can help.
Find Treatment for Acrophobia Today
Don’t allow fear of anything to stop you from living the life you deserve. Take the first step toward overcoming your fears when you contact us at the number listed here. Our counselors can talk to you about the top luxury mental health treatment options that can help you to face your fears –and overcome them. Call now to take that first step toward changing your life.
If you are acrophobic, when faced with heights you may:
- Drop to your knees or lower yourself to the ground
- Reach for something to hold onto
- Start hyperventilating
- Feel unable to balance while standing
- Find it difficult to think or speak coherently
Acrophobia: What is it, symptoms and how to get over it?
Are you afraid of heights? Do you feel unable to observe a landscape from the top of a mountain? Are you horrified when you think about stairs? Acrophobia or phobia of heights is an anxiety disorder that makes it difficult for those who suffer from it to lead a fully normal life. It can incapacitate people even to perform actions as daily as peer into a balcony or look out the window from a building. Discover here the symptoms, causes, and consequences of acrophobia. In addition, we will tell you how to overcome it.
Acrophobia can be defined as an intense fear of heights. People with this anxiety disorder panic from being in high places or from even imagining being near heights (a lift, stairs, etc.). Between 2% and 5% of the population faces this problem and the majority of those affected are women.
What is a phobia? We can’t go on talking about acrophobia without defining what is a phobia precisely. This term is used with constantly in everyday language and sometimes we misuse it. Other words “depression” or “stress” suffer the same daily distortions. Its indiscriminate use confuses and makes it complicated to speak about these problems properly.
A phobia is a fear reaction that happens when a person is threatened by the object of their fear. These responses are always given to certain stimuli (cars, water, insects, etc.) and tend to be disproportionate.
That is to say, if an enormous poisonous snake follows us and we feel an intense fear, we can’t consider that we have a phobia. This would be a normal reaction and emotion.
In fact, the anxiety symptoms we feel in this type of stimuli are adaptive because it allows us to conserve our life.
However, if we faint every time someone mentions the blood, we could use the term phobia since it’s not a proportional reaction.
Phobias are unwarranted reactions. Even the person who suffers them considers them irrational. These fears can turn out to be a real nightmare for those who are facing them. In this article, we will tell you everything you need to know about acrophobia or phobia of heights and how to overcome it.
People who suffer from acrophobia not only feel a deep anxiety on the roof of a skyscraper or avoid risky sports that involve rising a great distance from the ground.
Other actions we take on a daily basis such as looking out the window from the first floor or crossing a slightly elevated bridge can be extremely difficult for people with acrophobia if it’s very intense.
There are different stimuli that produce intense fear in the acrophobic, but not everyone is afraid of the same situations. In addition, there are different degrees of intensity in fear of heights.
These are the most common psychological and physiological symptoms:
- Loss of control
- Tension and muscle agitation
- Severe palpitations
It should be noted that we are all afraid of heights since childhood, but the degree of fear varies from one person to another. This fear is also present in animals and it is adaptive, it avoids dangerous falls. As for people with height phobia, the reasons for their disorder may be totally different. Here are the main causes:
1- Acrophobia from traumatic events
Generally, these events usually take place during childhood. From the most common events such as falls to major accidents in which the victim is seriously affected and this may have an impact on a phobia. This does not imply that all people who suffer some unpleasant event related to height will suffer acrophobia.
On the other hand, there are people who acquired this disorder through observation even though they were not injured. This process is called vicarious learning. For example, if we see a wasp bite our older brother and observe his panic reaction, it is quite possible that we feel fear every time a similar insect approaches us.
2- Fear of Heights since birth
Currently, researchers are investigating the inheritance of predisposing factors to this phobia. It is believed that in families with acrophobia, children are born observing the distress and eventually develop this disorder.
3-Cognitive biased in Acrophobia
The deviations in our cognitive processes also play an important role in causing such phobias. The processing wrong the data on heights can rise excessive concern and stress response, leading into a phobia. A tendency to overestimate the occurrence of accidents or the severity of accidents is common when this happens.
Acrophobia-Fear of heights
Fear of heights-Consequences
There are many people who feel totally unable to clean building windows or consider the idea of skydiving extremely unpleasant. This does not imply that they have a problem. It is common for us to object to potentially dangerous situations. But people who suffer from acrophobia experience intense height-related discomfort frequently.
Not all phobias are clinically relevant. For example, having a disproportionate fear of tarantulas is not a major concern for a person who spends most of his time in a big city. However, heights are everywhere.
There are cities full of steep slopes and buildings that are hell for acrophobes. On the other hand, in cities that are valleys where there are no slopes, it might feel heaven for a person who fears heights.
1. Avoidance behaviors of acrophobes
For acrophobes, these anxiety symptoms trigger several avoidance behaviors. Running away or avoiding the stimuli that trigger your fear keeps the disorder going.
2. Acrophobes relinquish usual activities
Acrophobics often reject fun activities enjoying the viewpoints, hopping on a roller coaster or taking a cable car.
3. Acrophobia work problems
They may have difficulties at work if their job involves dealing with heights. For most people, moving to the tenth floor is not an issue. However, for acrophobes, it can pose a serious problem. Fear can be incredibly disabling and they may go so far as to diminish their performance or even be forced to quit their job.
4. Acrophobes general decline in quality of life
wise, any phobia can also significantly worsen the quality of life of the person in several areas. They are very frustrating emotionally and can not be ignored by the sufferer.
In addition, they have negative effects on people’s self-control.
These disorders are relatively common and get a lot of attention from psychology professionals, who are looking for ways to help people who are suffering from excessive anxiety.
Is vertigo the same as fear of heights?
Often we relate these two terms because both have to do with a discomfort related to heights, but they are not synonyms. Vertigo a sensation of whirling and loss of balance.
It seems as the elements around us seem to move or that we are spinning. On the other hand, people who suffer from a phobia of heights can have vertigo at any given time. However, vertigo is only one of the symptoms of this disorder.
In short, these difficulties are related although they are not equivalent.
How to overcome the phobia to heights?
If your fear of heights is not pathological, there are ways to keep calm that can distract you from these fears. It is possible to relax in situations of anxiety, however, if you really do have a phobia that harms you noticeably, it is best to seek professional help.
There are psychological assessment tools such as questionnaires that allow us to know if we are facing an unreasonable fear or not. There are several therapies that have proven to be a great help for acrophobia. Even so, it is not known which is the best method and each person is different. However, seeking a suitable treatment is essential to improve the quality of life of those affected.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
This is the most commonly used therapy for treating phobias. Procedures such as exposure techniques have a long and successful tradition in research and clinical application. These methods gradually bring the acrophobes closer to the object of their fears. They become progressively more secure and reduce anxiety reactions.
Patients can be directed by professionals to the fear stimuli or submit directly to self-exposure techniques, in which they make more direct contact with their fears. On the other hand, the exhibition can be symbolic or live. It can be done even in a group or individually.
The symptoms do not always disappear completely but can carry out daily activities such as riding a lift or looking out a window without it paralyzing them in fear. Psychological intervention is ly to greatly increase their well-being.
In addition, these therapies are under continuous review. In fact, the rise of new technologies, such as virtual reality, has helped people face their fears in a more controlled setting. The acrophobe can overcome challenges that he could not even imagine before.
Thank you very much for reading this article. And you, do you feel comfortable observing our of the window of a tall building or traveling by helicopter? If you have any questions or want to make a contribution, please comment below.
This article is originally in Spanish written by Ainhoa Arranz Aldana, translated by Alejandra Salazar.
Alejandra is a clinical and health psychologist. She is a child specialist with a diploma in evaluation and intervention in autism.
She has worked in different schools with young children and private practice for over 6 years. She is interested in early childhood intervention, emotional intelligence, and attachment styles.
As a brain and human behavior enthusiast, she is more than happy to answer your questions and share her experience.
Acrophobia (The Fear of Heights): Are You Acrophobic?
Are you afraid of heights? Do you panic when you realize you’re high off the ground? Do you dread the thought of attending a meeting on a high floor of an office building? Do you close your eyes when scenic car rides involve higher altitudes? Does simply standing on a ladder reinforce the knowledge that you’re scared of heights? You may have acrophobia, or fear of heights, an anxiety disorder affecting some 5% of the population.
The definition of acrophobia is, simply put, a phobia of heights. Those who suffer from acrophobia—the word comes from the Greek word for heights, which is “acron,” and the Greek word for fear, which is “phobos”—typically don’t enjoy outings to amusement parks if these involve Ferris wheels and roller coasters.
Because of their phobia of heights, people with acrophobia may also be reluctant to stand on high hills and some can find it stressful to be on an escalator or a glass elevator. Individuals who are afraid of heights may even avoid driving over bridges as this can bring on dizziness.
This phobia of heights can trigger unpleasant symptoms that result in persons with acrophobia avoiding the possibility of higher altitude situations altogether.
Unfortunately, this avoidance can interfere with quality of life. This is not great news for women, in whom acrophobia is twice as common as it is in men.
You might delay performing home repairs because you fear climbing a ladder. You might experience debilitating stress over being assigned a hotel room on a high floor. You might even avoid patios or hiking mountain trails.
Your acrophobia could be adversely affecting your lifestyle.
Symptoms of Acrophobia
Some people use the word “vertigo” when describing their fear of heights, but vertigo, or the unpleasant sensation of spinning, is really just one symptom of acrophobia. Other symptoms can include:
- Feeling the need to crawl on all fours, kneel, or descend immediately when you are high off the ground
- Feeling terrified or paralyzed
- Experiencing heart palpitations
- Crying or yelling
- A full-blown panic attack complete with breathlessness
- Headaches and dizziness when you are high off the ground
Causes of Acrophobia
A fear of heights may stem from our natural fear of falling and being injured. Dwelling on the pain that might be inflicted from a fall from a high place also could contribute to the development of acrophobia.
It’s normal for people to have some reluctance about being in high places but for those with acrophobia, the fear is unrealistic and excessive. Acrophobia, all phobias, appears to be a hyper-reaction of the normal fear response.
Some experts believe that this may be a learned response to either a previous fall or to a parent’s nervous reaction to heights.
The good news is that with time and dedication, acrophobia can be overcome. One of the main treatments for acrophobia is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
With this form of therapy, behavioral techniques that expose the individual to the feared situation—in this case, heights and high places—are employed.
These behavioral techniques may be used either gradually or rapidly, and the patient is taught how to stop the panicky reaction and how to regain control of her emotions.
While actual exposure to heights is also a treatment for acrophobia, some research shows that virtual reality may prove just as effective.1 Virtual reality saves both money and time, though it is not readily available everywhere. Still, as the price of virtual reality equipment drops, this form of treatment may become easier to access with time.
As for medications, sometimes beta blockers or sedatives can be used for short-term relief as they can relieve panic and anxiety.
The drug, D-cycloserine, has been studied since 2008 in clinical trials for anxiety disorder, and some research indicates that using D-cycloserine with CBT may yield better results than the drug or CBT on its own.
However, since one meta-analysis that combined the results of many studies questioned this drug’s usefulness, it appears that more research is needed. 2
Learn all you can. Educate yourself about acrophobia and look into treatment options that can help you manage your fear of heights.
Acrophobia is different from other phobias because if you have a panic attack while in a high place, you might make an unsafe move that actually could be dangerous.
So be sure to get treatment for your acrophobia, especially if being in high places is a routine part of your life.
Relax! Relaxation techniques, including meditation, yoga, deep breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation, may help an individual to cope with both stress and anxiety. Getting regular exercise may also be helpful in treating your acrophobia.
Get support. Talk to your doctor about what medications and therapies might help you. If your doctor is unfamiliar with acrophobia, ask for a referral to a mental health professional who can help.
Don’t be embarrassed about telling your friends and your family about your phobia of heights, and ask for their support as you get treatment for it. Remember, you’re not alone. Millions of Americans suffer from acrophobia, but it is very treatable.
With help and support, you can start managing your phobia of heights and move on with your life.
Acrophobia, or why are some people are afraid of heights
If you’ve ever felt your heart race as you looked down from the top of a tall ladder, you’re not alone. But for some people, their distress is far more serious. Simply thinking about climbing a ladder can lead to intense fear and anxiety.
These are the roughly one in 15 people who have a fear of heights (acrophobia) at some point in their lives.
So, what leads some people to feel anxious even thinking about climbing the ladder? And others happily climb up onto the roof?
What is acrophobia?
About one in three people say they experience some discomfort or distress when exposed to heights. But not all of these have acrophobia. The term acrophobia is reserved for people with extreme, irrational and persistent fears of heights and situations associated with them.
It’s one of the so-called natural environment phobias, which also include a fear of thunder and lightening (astraphobia) or water (aquaphobia).
People with acrophobia often avoid situations where they will be exposed to heights. However, this is not always possible.
When faced with heights or anticipating them, their sympathetic nervous system is aroused, as if preparing the body for an emergency. This arousal helps either approach or escape from a threat (commonly known as the fight-or-flight response).
They may experience vertigo (a moving or spinning sensation), increased heart rate, shortness of breath, sweating, anxiety, shaking or trembling, and nausea or an upset stomach.
A fight-or-flight response can be adaptive in dangerous situations, because it can help us respond to dangerous situations.
But in people with acrophobia, this response can occur when no danger is present. For instance, some people are extremely distressed when thinking about heights.
There are two main perspectives about how acrophobia develops. Broadly, fears and phobias are either innate (evolutionary perspective) or learned (behaviourist perspective).
Are we born with a fear of heights?
According to the evolutionary psychology perspective, fears and phobias are innate. That is, people can experience a fear of heights without direct (or indirect) contact with heights. Instead, acrophobia is somehow hardwired so people have this fear before they first come into contact with heights.
Evolutionary psychologists suggest people who are afraid of heights are more ly to escape from this potentially dangerous situation or avoid it altogether. By doing this, they are then more ly to survive and later reproduce, allowing them to pass on their genes. Researchers suggest that as a result, this fear has been passed down from generation to generation.
But this mechanism cannot account for all phobias. Innate phobias must reflect objects or situations that have presented a long-term threat to human survival. Avoiding the object or situation must also increase opportunities for reproduction.
While the evolutionary perspective may explain phobias such as a fear of heights or snakes, it has difficulty explaining phobias associated with going to the dentist or public speaking.
Do we learn to be afraid of heights?
According to behaviourists, fears and phobias are learnt, most commonly due to what’s known as classical conditioning.
To demonstrate how classical conditioning of phobias occurs, consider the following scenario.
Imagine you climbed a tree for the first time. What is your reaction to being up a tree? According to the behaviourist perspective, you’d be unly to be afraid. But if you then fell from the tree, you would ly experience distress and fear.
The first time you climb a tree, it’s unly you’d be afraid. But if you then fell from the tree, you’d ly experience distress and fear.
A behaviourist would expect that because the experience of being up high is followed by the trauma of falling, you may then learn to associate the negative event with heights.
You learn to associate the neutral stimulus (heights) with the fear-evoking stimulus (falling). So, you feel fear and distress the next time you are faced with heights.
Because of these learnt associations between heights and trauma, behaviourists suggest people can then be afraid of heights in future encounters.
Linking fear with heights means when someone encounters the original situations (heights) they show a fear response to something that they previously showed no or a neutral response to.
The behaviourist perspective also has some problems. It finds it difficult to explain why people who have never been exposed to an object or situation can report a phobia. For example there are no snakes in New Zealand, but there are people in New Zealand with snake phobias.
Behaviourists also suggest fears and phobias can also be learnt vicariously. So behaviourists suggest it may be that some people in New Zealand may have learnt their fear of snakes by hearing stories from other people with a fear of snakes.
In reality, the best explanation may be a mix of both behaviourist and evolutionary perspectives.
Can it be treated?
In treatment, both evolutionary and behaviourist accounts draw on the behaviourist perspective of how fears and phobias are learnt.
Systematic desensitisation (or exposure therapy) is a commonly used therapy for various phobias, whether the fear is innate or learnt.
It involves gradual exposure to the feared object or situation in a safe and controlled environment. This is so that when coming into contact with the feared object or situation, people learn that they are not in danger and no longer experience a phobic response.
If this article has raised concerns for you or someone you know, please contact beyondblue for more information about phobias and how to treat them.
The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.
Source: Health Check: why are some people afraid of heights?