Phobias and their Effect on Cultures from a Psychological Standpoint


A phobia is considered an anxiety disorder that has been defined as a consistent fear of a object or a specific situation which the affected individual will strive to avoid, typically different from the actual danger that is posed. In many circumstances, the feared situation or object cannot be wholly avoided; the affected individual will try to endure it with patent distress and substantial interference in the occupational and social activities (Bourne, 2011).

Anxiety disorders are normally associated with feelings of apprehension, tension and fear that the affected person experience. It is essential to note that everyone encounters anxiety at some time in their life such that a threat will cause one to be fearful and get prepared for the fight or flight biological response. But for certain people, the intensity of anxiety being experienced may be very high and immensely affect the abilities of the persons to properly function in their everyday life. Phobia is one of the common examples of anxiety.

Anxiety disorders are common all over the globe and are estimated to effect roughly 16.6% of the global population every year (Winerman, 2007). Many phobias are common along various groups, gender, and transcendinggender and socioeconomic status.

Phobias are classified into two sub categories according to the DSM-V or Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. These encompass specific phobia and social phobia. They consider a specific phobia as a individuals ability to identify apersistent fear of a object or situation which results in excessive or unreasonable fear. This is because the individuals begin to anticipate what will happen in the presence of a particular object or situation. Some specific phobias will cause an individual to panic, faint, or sometimes lose control.Social phobias are the phobias within the context of social situations like crowded areas or public speaking.

Literature Review

Phobias are considered to be a form of anxiety the which have a big variance in the degree in which they are onset. In a study done by the National Institute of Mental Health indicated there is about 8.7-18.1% people suffering from some sort of a phobia.  This makes it impossible to consider that phobias are not attributed or a form of mental illness. They have noticed that it is very prevalent in womenof all ages and among men above 25 years. Between 4% to 10% of the children experience specific phobia at certain times in their lives (Winerman, 2007).Social phobia is experienced in around 1-3 % of the children and adolescents. These thoughts are once again verified by a study done in Sweden which discovered that females normally have higher incidences of phobia than their male counterparts. Females have 26.5% and males have 12.4% (Winerman, 2007).

One thing that is very important to be noted is the fact that some phobias appear almost exclusively among given cultural groups. For instance, the Ataque de nervios occur almost exclusively among the Hispanic people and much more common in females than males. It is characterised by inability to move, fainting, uncontrollable screaming, and crying(Kleinknecht, et al (1977). Taijin Kyofusho is another condition that normally appears to those with Japanese descent and is less experienced among other Asian cultures. This condition is close to an exact reversal of what defines social phobia since it is characterised by the fear of physical body or one’s appearance offending others. Taijin kyofusho is identified disorder in Japan but in the Western culture, it is not meeting the criteria of any diagnosis (Kleinknecht, et al (1977). Additionally, Koro is another example of a phobia that is specific to the Asian males bringing a specific fear of the genitals drawing back into the body, consequently resulting to death. Koro is not being experienced in the Western culture since it involves elements of several types of disorders. It produces extreme fears thus makes it an anxiety disorder.

Little information exists about the cultural differences in phobias, particularly specific phobias. Basically, phobia content at times varies with culture (Kleinknecht, et al (1977). For instance, the fear of a phobic stimulus like spirits or magic, found in various cultures, can be diagnosed as a specific phobia if the fear is too much of a given culture and if the fear causes a lot of distress or even interrupts with functioning (Elkin & Cameron, 1999).Particular research shows that African Americans, as compared to whites, are more likely to have specific phobias. Other studies indicate that specific phobias are less prevalent among immigrant Mexican Americans or whites who are born within the U.S than Mexican Americans born in the United States (Kleinknecht, et al (1977).

A review was done which examined prevalence rates and treatment of phobias related to culture. It was suggested that prevalence will be widely effected by culture and ethnicity. They concluded that it has a wide involvement in the effects phobias have on you. When examining cultures, it was found that the USA and Russia had higher prevalence rates then Asia.Taijin kyofusho, as discussed above, is a culture specific expression of phobia amidst concerns of its mixed validity syndrome (Kleinknecht, et al (1977).It is therefore essential to examine a person’s social concerns in the context of culture, ethnic background and race to effectively assess the level and expression of social anxiety and social anxiety disorder.




Social anxiety are directly associated to the role expectations and social standards, which are dependent on culture. By acknowledging the complex relationship between culture and phobia, some focus has been put on psychopathologic manifestation of social anxiety disorder across cultures while others will be able to compare typical symptoms of the disorder across various cultures (Bourne, 2011). Before doing a diagnosis on a specific phobia, it is important for clinician to examine how prevalent the phobia is to the client the extremeness of the phobia is very important in examine the situation or object.  It is also important to look at it culturally and see if the culture plays a larger rule in the reason the phobia has such a high impact on the client. Ultimately the more distress that is caused the more prevalent the phobia obviously is. This calls for further research on the effects that culture has on the symptoms of phobias.

Therefore, this study will test the hypothesis that phobias affect cultures differently from a psychology standpoint. The content of phobia normally varies with the context of a given culture.






Bourne, Edmund J. (2011). The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook(5th Ed.). New Harbinger Publications.

Elkin, D. &Cameron, M. (1999) Anxiety Disorders. In Introduction to Clinical Psychiatry, edited by G. David Elkin, M.D. (1st edition). Stamford, Connecticut: Appleton and Lange.

Kleinknecht, R., et al (1977) Cultural Factors in Social Anxiety: A comparison of social phobia symptoms and Taijin kyofusho. J Anxiety Disord.

Winerman, Lea. (2007)Figuring Out Phobia, American Psychology Association: Monitor on Psychology.