Under the DSM-5 a phobia is a disorder characterised by excessive fear and anxiety that is triggered by an object, place, or situation. It identifies 3 main categories:

  • Specific phobias – Phobia of an object or situation
  • Social anxiety – Phobia of a social situation
  • Agoraphobia – Phobia of being outside or in a public place

Some examples of phobias include:

  • Arachnophobia – Fear of spiders
  • Coulrophobia – Fear of clowns
  • Omophalophobia – Fear of belly buttons
  • Pogonophobia – Fear of beards

Some of these phobias to the public may seem bizarre but one of the characteristics of a phobia is that the behaviours, emotions and thought process are irrational. However, they can have a detrimental effect on someone’s life. Someone with a fear of beards may suffer from going out in public, going to work, or socialising with friends. A fear of belly buttons, although some may mock, may lead to the difficulty in forming intimate relationships, going swimming, going to the beach or holiday.

Behaviour Characteristics


Someone with a phobia when exposed to their phobic stimulus may panic. This involves an intense fear that could lead to crying, screaming, or running away. Children can sometime act different and just freeze in the presences of their phobic stimulus.


Another behaviour response for someone suffering from a phobia is avoidance. They will. Make every effort to avoid the phobic stimulus. This can be very disruptive in someone’s life for example a fear birds may limit someone’s ability to go outside, to work or to school etc…


Alternatively, some people who suffer from phobias when exposed to their phobic stimulus may just endeavour to endure it. They will still experience high levels of anxiety during this exposure.

Emotional Characteristics


Phobias are classed as anxiety disorders. Someone suffering from a phobia and exposed to their phobic stimulus is likely to experience intense fear and anxiety which may lead to the behaviours above. These feelings of fear and anxiety may not only be experienced in the presence of the phobic stimulus but also with just the thought of it. These emotional responses are irrational and not the same level of fear and anxiety that the public would experience.

Cognitive Characteristics

Selective attention

An individual in the presence of a phobic stimulus may become fixated on that stimulus. This may be the constant thought of it, constantly keeping an eye out for it or staring at it. As an evolutionary being fixated on a danger would be an advantage as we would be able to keep ourselves safe however, in phobias this fear is irrational and this selective attention could affect concentration, interactions with others over what everyone else would seem trivial.  

Irrational beliefs

Those who suffer from phobias will often suffer from irrational beliefs, potentially thinking the worst of an object or situation which then leads to the emotions and behaviours associated with a phobia. They may believe that they should always be correct and sound smart but are unable to do this and fear public humiliated from speaking in in public.

Cognitive distortions

Another irrationality is the perception of the phobic stimulus, Individuals may imagine the worse and see something as dangerous, scary, ugly etc… when the majority would not consider this. These beliefs are irrational and can affect their day-to-day activities and interactions.